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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Massage: How to Handle a Chronic Condition

October 30, 2016 3 min read

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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Massage: How to Handle a Chronic Condition

There’s no doubt about it, Rheumatoid arthritis is not a good thing. Statistics say that approximately 1.5 million people in the US have it, and around 75% of those are women, although it has been estimated that 2.4 in 100 men between the ages of 18 and 79, of European ethnicity, are likely to get Rheumatoid Arthritis. It might not sound like a lot, but the chances are that as a massage therapist, you are going to come across the occasional patient with this problem.

Massage therapy has been known to improve the situation for sufferers of this debilitating condition and those who have opted to come to you for a treatment may have some expectations or hopes as to how you’re going to be able to help them. Obviously there are no guarantees and a massage therapist is not a Doctor, but it certainly helps if the therapist has at least a basic understanding of the condition and how it is affected by massage. 

 

This type of arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body will mistakenly attack its own tissues – namely, the synovial tissues around joints; it gets progressively worse if left untreated and anywhere in the body is susceptible to it, and it’s not just bones, cartilage and ligaments that are affected. In some cases even the heart and lungs are damaged by this condition. The main symptoms sufferers report are severe pain and swelling, which can often lead to irreversible disability. This usually happens over the course of around ten years, and where the condition is inadequately treated, approximately 60% of people are unable to work by ten-year mark.

Massage is known to improve the condition quickly

Causes are not exactly known but it is thought that heredity is a factor, as well as environment and lifestyle. The condition can flare up before dying down again repeatedly, so sometimes your massage patient may feel worse than others. Generally, Rheumatoid arthritis will affect the smaller joints, as can be seen in the distorted finger and thumb joints of some sufferers, but it eventually affects larger joints like the hips, knees, shoulders. The time between flare-ups decreases as the condition progresses, and other symptoms will include fatigue, anemia, weight loss and fevers. It is down to your client to manage the majority of those symptoms of course, but as a therapist you are able to offer a valuable service in terms of assisting in strengthening the joints and helping them to move more easily. 

Studies have demonstrated that a moderate pressure during massage gives the best results, so erring on the side of caution with too light a pressure may not yield many benefits for the your client. Provided that the client isn’t caused discomfort during the massage, moderate pressure on the affected areas once a week should result in better flexibility and less pain after only one month. Other benefits noted were elevated moods and decreased anxiety, which makes sense if less pain is being experienced!

It may be that potential customers with Rheumatoid arthritis don’t know that massage therapy is good for them; perhaps it hasn’t occurred to them, or they are concerned that they’ll experience pain during the treatment. If that is the case, the chances are that they won’t be passing through your reception or browsing your website any time soon, but it wouldn’t hurt to make it known that you are able to assist with such conditions. It is more likely that one of your usual customers will notice it and pass the information on to a relative or friend they know that has it.

Have you ever had an experience with a client suffering from this condition? We’d like to hear about it if so. Was it positive and did you see an improvement? Would you feel comfortable massaging a chronic sufferer? Let us know your thoughts.


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