Are Massage Chairs Good for Arthritis?

According to the American Massage Therapy Association’s (AMTA) 22nd annual consumer survey, 78% of individuals surveyed reported that the main reason for having their last massage in the previous year was medical (52%) or stress-related (26%).

Pain relief, soreness, muscle spasms or stiffness, injury recovery, migraines, prevention, pregnancy or prenatal, and general well-being are among the medical reasons.

Research suggests that massage can also affect the production of certain hormones in the body linked to anxiety and blood pressure.

This brings about the question: are massage chairs good for arthritis?

Yes, massage therapy offers several benefits for people with arthritis, which means that massage chairs can be effective for managing and alleviating pain associated with arthritis and related conditions.

How Does Massage Help with Arthritis?

It’s known that massage therapy can help reduce anxiety as well as certain painful conditions. However, the mechanism of these effects isn’t entirely clear, according to Christopher Moyer, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin in Stout.  

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Numerous studies have shown that massage can decrease the production and release of cortisol (a major stress hormone), lower the levels of arginine-vasopressin (a hormone that may reduce blood pressure), boost the production of serotonin (a hormone related to mood elevation), and reduce the levels of some inflammatory cytokines.  

As such, the mechanism by which massage therapy can ease arthritis pain and alleviate anxiety involves various aspects. 

According to Rosemary Chunco, a licensed massage therapist in Plano, Texas, who works with many patients with arthritis and related conditions, the exact mechanism that presents the advantages to patients with arthritis is still under investigation. For example, the reduction of pain could be the result of the more restful sleep that follows a massage session or the improved blood flow

What does matter, though, is the intensity of the pressure applied during the massage. Tiffany Field, Ph.D., a research psychologist at the University of Miami Medical School published a study in 2010 in the International Journal of Neuroscience that showed how stimulating pressure receptors with moderate pressure can cause a reduction in symptoms. 

According to Field, it’s all about using moderate pressure. If the pressure is too light, like just touching or brushing the surface of the skin, it won’t reach those pressure receptors. So while light pressure can be stimulating, it won’t be soothing.

Scientific Evidence that Massage Helps with Arthritis 

Below are a few recent studies showing the possible effectiveness of massage therapy in people suffering from arthritis or related conditions:

  • Knee osteoarthritis (OA) –  a 2018 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine has shown that massage therapy can be beneficial for patients with knee osteoarthritis. This study divided 200 knee OA patients into three treatment groups; the group that received a 1-hour whole-body massage weekly experienced significant improvement in pain and mobility compared to groups receiving light touch or standard care.
  • Hand arthritis – in a study conducted at the University of Miami, 15 minutes of moderate pressure massage every day caused a notable reduction in pain and anxiety and better grip strength in 22 patients with hand or wrist arthritis.
  • Spinal arthritis – low back pain is one of the most common symptoms of spinal arthritis. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine included 401 people with chronic low back pain, where patients who received 10 weekly massage sessions reported experiencing less pain and being better able to perform daily activities compared to those receiving usual care. 

A separate 2014 study published in Scientific World Journal showed that deep tissue massage alone alleviated back pain as effectively as the combination of massage and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

  • Fibromyalgia – a 2014 review of 9 randomized trials published in PLoS included a study that found that 5 or more weeks of massage therapy can significantly improve pain, reduce anxiety, and alleviate depression in patients with fibromyalgia.

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Special Considerations Concerning Using Massage Chairs for Arthritis Pain

As we discussed above, a massage chair can help you manage various symptoms associated with arthritis. But if you want to really make sure it’s a good idea for your specific condition, you should consult your rheumatologist before use. 

Generally, a massage chair is not recommended in the following cases:

  • An open wound
  • Inflamed or infected injuries
  • Fever
  • Damaged or eroded joints resulting from arthritis 
  • Immediately after surgery
  • A recent surgery
  • At the sites of recent fractures, sprains, or bruises
  • Circulatory ailments such as phlebitis or varicose veins
  • An Infectious skin disease
  • A rash
  • A tendency to form blood clots or if using blood thinners
  • Areas of bleeding or heavy tissue damage
  • Immediately after chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

Wrap Up

So, are massage chairs good for arthritis?

Yes, and the science agrees. Massage therapy has been shown to be effective in improving pain, anxiety, mobility, and great massage chairs are indeed good for arthritis.