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The Role of Massage Therapy in Treatment

Hand Massage

Most of us feel a great sense of relaxation and well-being after receiving a massage. But did you know that massage therapy also has a role in treating certain medical conditions by providing symptom relief and possibly even improving the immune system? Here’s how we as clinicians have often found it to be valuable in treating certain diagnoses:

Collaboration between massage therapists and physical therapists
At the Integrative Care Center, many patients have benefited from a collaborative approach between massage therapists and physical therapists. Our center opened in 2001, and received such overwhelmingly positive responses from both patients and clinicians that the massage therapy program was extended to our main HSS campus at the Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center.

Massage therapy and the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee
One condition that has been shown to respond to massage therapy is osteoarthritis of the knee. According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, participants with knee arthritis who received hour-long therapeutic massage sessions for eight weeks showed improvements in pain, stiffness, and physical function (sessions were given twice per week for four weeks, followed by once per week for another four weeks). They also demonstrated better range of motion and were able to walk fifty feet in a shorter period of time compared to the baseline and to participants who did not receive therapeutic massages.

Our experience
The experience of our staff is that massage therapy prepares the body for physical therapy. Soft tissue issues such as stubborn and chronic tension, swelling, and sensitivity can be dealt with first by an experienced massage therapist. The improved mobility and tolerance of the soft tissue better allows the muscles and joints to perform more effectively through movement re-education exercises during physical therapy. Usually only a few sessions of massage therapy is needed to produce the desired effect. One significant factor that contributes to the success of our patients’ outcomes is the ability of the patient, massage therapist and physical therapist to directly communicate with each other in the same environment.

While the effects of these two interventions combined have yet to be formally studied, our clinical experience suggests that using physical therapy and massage therapy together can be beneficial. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Integrative Care Center at 212.224.7900.

Betty Chow is a physical therapist at the Integrative Care Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She is a certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist with a PhD in Research in Physical Therapy.

Vlada Yaneva is a licensed massage therapist at the Integrative Care Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.