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Manage Arthritis Pain with Massage Therapy
I want to tell you about the most memorable massage I’ve ever done – literally. By the time my grandmother was in her nineties, her short-term memory was pretty much shot. She could remember WW2 like it was yesterday, but a conversation five minutes ago would escape her completely. I knew she was approaching the end of her life and that she was ready to make the journey to that far shore. And I knew I wanted to tell her how much her love and friendship had meant to me.
But I also knew her short term memory wouldn’t retain the conversation.
Instead of wasting words, I spoke to her in the oldest of languages: touch. Knowing she suffered from arthritis, I relished the chance to gently massage her hands, feet, and shoulders. I always try to incorporate some health education into my work, so when she would tell me about how the massage left her hands and feet feeling “warm and tingly” I would explain to her how massage was generally thought to improve circulation and stimulate nerves.
Hours later, she would have forgotten my explanation, but she would remember the massage and would still be talking about how good her hands felt. “The pain is gone and my hands feel all warm and tingly”, she’d say “Do you think that could be from the circulation?” “Could be, Grandma”, I’d reply with a smile. “Could be.”
As medical terms go, “arthritis” is pretty straightforward. From the Greek, arthro means “joint” and itis means “inflammation”. There are different types, causes, and considerations, but broadly speaking, arthritis is a medical condition involving inflammation of the joints.
The most common form is osteoarthritis, aka degenerative joint disease. This is the result of wear and tear on weight-bearing joint surfaces. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. Other forms of arthritis include gout, which is best managed through diet and lifestyle. While often thought of as a disease that afflicts the elderly, arthritis affects people in all age ranges – and some 53 million Americans suffer from it in one way or another.
There are various signs and symptoms, but the standout is pain: arthritis hurts!
While there is no known cure for arthritis, we do know that massage can help. According to research published by the Massage Therapy Foundation, here are some of the ways massage can benefit someone suffering from arthritis:
• Reduce pain
• Improve strength
• Improve mobility, flexibility, and range of motion
• Reduce stress (and since stress exacerbates pain, this also helps in pain relief!)
Many of these benefits can be felt in just a single session with a skilled
practitioner, or even with self-massage. And, of course, regular, ongoing sessions with a professional massage therapist will usually yield the most powerful therapeutic results. Massage is not appropriate for every case of arthritis – it shouldn’t be done when the pain and inflammation is severely flared up, and some forms of arthritis need to be treated in different ways. Clients with arthritis are advised to speak with their doctor about receiving massage. But, generally speaking, massage can help.
On top of all of that, there is another potential benefit as well, a benefit to the massage therapist. You see, my grandmother died peacefully at the age of 93, in the same room of the same house that she had been born in. Her passing taught me one of the most precious lessons I’ve learned in over twenty years in the healing arts. While I was certainly sad and felt grief, I realized I wasn’t wracked with the kind of emotional pain that comes from a feeling of “unfinished business”, of not getting to express to a dying loved one how much they meant to us. I had gotten the chance to tell my grandmother how much love and gratitude I felt for her – in a language older than words, in a way she not only heard but felt, and in a way that she would remember in the twilight of her life.