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Whole-body massage helps relieve knee arthritis symptoms

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A regular whole-body massage can help reduce pain and improve mobility in people with knee osteoarthritis (OA), new research reveals.

The study led by researchers at Duke Health examined the effects of whole-body massage on knee OA, compared with active control (light-touch) and usual care.

Dr Adam Perlman and colleagues at four institutions enrolled approximately 200 patients with osteoarthritis in their knees. Patients were randomly divided into three groups: those who received a one-hour, weekly Swedish massage for eight weeks; those who received a light-touch control treatment; and those who received no extra care other than their usual regimen.

After eight weeks, patients were again randomised to continue with massage or light-touch every other week, or to receive no treatment for the remainder of the 52-week study. The original group receiving usual care continued to week 24.

Patients were assessed every two months using a standardised questionnaire called the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index. This measures pain, stiffness and functional limitations, including how well patients can climb stairs, stand up from sitting or lying down, and bend, walk or get out of a car, among other activities.

Results at eight weeks showed that massage significantly improved patients’ scores on the questionnaire compared with light-touch and usual care. Massage improved pain, stiffness and physical function.

At 52 weeks, the twice-monthly massages maintained the improvements observed at eight weeks, but did not provide an additional benefit beyond usual care. There were no significant differences in change between the groups at the end of the study.

According to the researchers, the efficacy of symptom relief and safety of weekly massage make it an attractive short-term treatment option for knee osteoarthritis.

“Massage therapy is one of the most popular complementary medicine interventions,” Dr Perlman said. “At a time when people are looking for effective non-medication options for pain, this study provides further evidence that massage has a potential role, at least for those suffering with osteoarthritis.”

The findings have been published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.