Massage for Arthritis?

When I suggested massage can be helpful in managing arthritis in a cat, in response to a post, someone commented that “since arthritis is a condition of the joints not the muscles, massage will have absolutely no effect.”

In that statement, he is both right, and (in my opinion) completely wrong.

Osteoarthritis is most certainly a condition of the joints; rheumatoid arthritis (which is a lot rarer) is an auto immune disease. Osteoarthritis involves damage of the cartilage surrounding the joints, inflammation of the joints and changes to the synovial fluid. Adjoining bones start to rub against each other which is painful. Often new rough bone formation (bone spurs) occur around the joint. It is a progressive disease which cannot be cured, but certainly can be managed and slowed. Arthritis is common in the hip and elbow joints, and will often affect animals with hip or elbow dysplasia, as well as those who have had damage to cruciate ligaments.

The condition affects both dogs and cats (and most likely other animals as well). While osteoarthritis is more common in older animals, it certainly can affect younger animals as well.

So, now that we understand a bit about the disease, what about this man’s statement that massage can’t help?

Firstly, let’s look at what a study in human massage has shown.

From the Arthritis Foundation (for people):
“Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, conducted a number of studies on the benefits of massage, including on people with arthritis. In Field’s research and other recent studies on the effects of massage for arthritis symptoms, regular use of the simple therapy led to improvements in pain, stiffness, range of motion, hand grip strength and overall function of the joints.
Massage also benefits people with painful hand or wrist arthritis, Field concluded in another 2006 study that she conducted with colleagues in Miami. Twenty-two adults, mostly women, diagnosed with hand or wrist arthritis were given four weekly massages from a therapist and taught to massage their sore joints daily at home. Just a 15-minute, moderate pressure massage per day led to reduced pain and anxiety, and increased grip strength for the participants as measured on comparative pre- and post-therapy tests.”

There is every reason to conclude that since massage has been shown to be an effective way to manage arthritis and reduce pain in humans, it will do the same for animals.

Arthritic animals use their muscles differently just as we do. They compensate for the pain and discomfort by overusing and putting pressure on some of their muscles. This leads to painful muscle spasms and “knots”. Often animals with arthritis tend to have discomfort in their backs and this can also be relieved with massage.

Another area often affected by arthritis in dogs and cats is the paws, specifically around the carpus joint (wrist), stifle (knee) and hock (ankle). There are techniques that massage practitioners use to gently flex the joints and reduce stiffness, increase blood flow and range of motion in these areas.

Many animal massage practitioners are also familiar with some of the major acupressure points; some are fully qualified acupressure practitioners as well as massage practitioners. Acupressure uses the same principles as acupuncture (but without the needles) by stimulating points along the meridians. Using specific acupressure points can provide relief for pain and stiffness.

To effectively manage arthritis in animals, often a combination of methods might be needed in addition to massage, such as weight loss, adapting the environment, joint supplements and possibly medication, amongst others. (Our 15 year old dog receives a Cartrophen injection every 2 months, joint supplements and regular massage sessions from me).

As with most conditions, veterinary consent should be given prior to massaging an animal with arthritis.