It's Not Just Relaxation: Massage Can Treat Your Medical Condition

By Yulia Agarkov, Registered Massage Therapist at River East Physiotherapy & Sports Fitness Clinics.

I often have clients who come to me for a relaxation or 'wellness' type of massage.  When we talk during massage session, a lot of them are surprised that massage therapy could contribute into treatment and management of many health conditions. 

In this blog post, I’ll describe some health conditions that can benefit from registered massage therapy.  These include: 

  • Post-operative hip or knee replacement
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tennis Elbow and Golfer's Elbow
  • Frozen Shoulder / Adhesive Capsulitis
  • Myofascial Pain Syndrome / Fibromyalgia
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Carpal Tunnel and Carpal Tunnel-Like Symptoms
  • Cancer: Post-operative Lumpectomy or Mastectomy
  • Headaches

If you have questions or concerns about massage treatment, if you’re curious about typical goals of massage therapy, or you want to know whether your medical condition would benefit from massage, please ask me. 

Hip or Knee Replacement

Hip and knee replacements are two of the most common orthopedic surgeries in North America. Starting rehab early – soon after your surgery - is very important for ensuring your joint replacement is successful. 

Any surgery is a trauma to the body. In response to this trauma, the body tries to stabilize the affected joint by tightening the muscles in the area. During hip or knee replacement surgeries, muscles are cut or moved (stretched) from the bone. In response, muscles can react with spasm and cause pain. 

Inflammation is part of the healing process.  Although it’s normal, excessive inflammation can limit range of motion (how much you can bend or straighten your joint) and slow your rehab process. 

Massage therapy can help.  Massage can improve circulation, decrease the swelling from inflammation, relax muscles in the area, and improve range of motion. The less swelling and pain in the area, the easier it will be for you to perform your physiotherapy exercises and daily tasks.

Discuss with your physiotherapist when a massage appointment would fit into your rehabilitation treatment plan. 

Important: your surgical incision must be completely healed before you book your massage appointment. That means you should have a scar formed, with no discharge from the incision.

Click here to learn more about how the team to River East Physiotherapy helps you increase the success of your joint replacement surgery.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition in which joints lose healthy cartilage and experience other changes such as a change to the joint fluid and the nearby bone. Spine, knees, hips are frequently affected by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis can be painful and cause joints to become stiff.

Up to 90% of people over 65 will show bony deformation on X-Ray (Ruth Werner, A Massage Therapist’s Guide To Pathology, 2019). While not everyone with signs of osteoarthritis will experience pain or stiffness, often the human body tries to stabilize affected joints by tightening the surrounding muscles. That is what can lead to stiffness, pain and reduced range of motion.  Plus, the tight muscles themselves could become an additional source of pain around the joint. 

Registered massage therapy can’t heal arthritis, but can reduce your symptoms of pain and stiffness. Massage therapy can improve and maintain range of motion.  It can also provide better movement of joint fluid, and as a result could lead to better flow of nutrients and “waste” removal from the joint. 

Click here to learn more about why the team at River East Physiotherapy is your go-to for treating arthritis.

Tennis Elbow / Golfer's Elbow

Tennis elbow and Golfer’s elbow are painful conditions caused by repetitive motions or overuse.  In these conditions, the muscles and tendons that bend and extend your wrist become inflamed. 

Massage therapy can relax the affected muscles, which decreases tension in the tendons. Massage also increases circulation in the area, which can help reduce excessive inflammation. 

Frozen Shoulder or Adhesive Capsulitis

Adhesive Capsulitis is a condition in which the connective tissues that surround the shoulder (“glenohumeral”) joint become inflamed, then thickened and restrictive. It’s commonly known as frozen shoulder.  People with frozen shoulder usually experience pain and stiffness in their shoulder, affecting whether they can do their day-to-day activities.

In most cases, signs and symptoms spontaneously resolve.  However, frozen shoulder usually lasts a long time before it gets better, particularly without rehab support, such as physiotherapy or massage therapy. On average, frozen shoulder lasts from 9 months to 3 years, although for some patients,  frozen shoulder can leads to life-time limitations. 

Why frozen shoulder occurs (its “pathophysiology”) is not completely understood. Current theory suggests that it begins with inflammation of the shoulder joint capsule and its ligaments. Repetitive motions, shoulder injury, and diabetes can be contributing factors.

Massage therapy along with physiotherapy can help you regain mobility and manage the pain associated with frozen shoulder. Massage therapy is very important treatment tool in this condition – that’s because some muscles are hard to stretch because of their position under the shoulder blade.  A Registered Massage Therapist can treat the joint capsule itself – that’s the connective tissue around shoulder joint – to separate micro adhesions and improve fluid flow in and around the joint. 

Myofascial Pain Syndrome / Fibromyalgia

Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain disorder. In this condition, pressure on sensitive points in your muscles (“trigger points”) causes pain in the muscle.  It can sometimes also cause pain in unrelated parts of the body. 

Myofascial pain syndrome typically occurs after straining muscles from too many repetitive movements. In 70% of cases there is a predictable map of trigger points. Fibromyalgia is also a chronic pain condition, characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep deprivation.  

Massage therapy can help.  A Registered Massage Therapist can address pain and tension in the body, including treating several trigger points.  That said, trigger point massage can only be done if you can tolerate that treatment. Sometimes this takes time, and three to four sessions of massage therapy before it is possible to work on trigger points directly. 

Usually clients with myofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia book massage on regular basis.  Regular massage therapy helps to manage the pain and improve sleep.  Some clients report that they’re also able to decrease their pain meds with effective massage therapy.

Carpal Tunnel and Carpal Tunnel-Like Symptoms

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a common chronic condition that causes pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand and wrist. It happens when there is increased pressure within the wrist on median nerve.

Your median nerve allows you to feel your thumb, index finger, middle finger, half of your ring finger. Your median nerve starts from your spinal cord in your neck and runs down your arm into your hand.  It passes through a space in your wrist called the carpal tunnel.  

If your median nerve is caught, pinched, overstretched or squeezed in any way, it creates symptoms in those parts of the hand that nerve supplies. There are several anatomical areas where this nerve could get impinged, not just in the carpal tunnel. This is why surgery to open up the carpal tunnel doesn’t always help – it tends to address only one area where the nerve is impinged.  A Registered Massage Therapist can focus on all the areas along the path of the median nerve where the nerve could be aggravated or impinged.  

Activities or jobs that involve repetitive use of your finger can contribute to this condition.  For example, high force movements such as hammering, playing string instruments, or the movements required to work as a baker or checkout clerk can increase the risk of CTS.  Heredity features (such as having a small carpal tunnel), pregnancy, breast feeding, hemodialysis, history of wrist fracture, arthritis, diabetes, amyloidosis, gout could contribute to this condition.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is common condition involving pain at the plantar fascia.  The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot, and connects your heel bone to your toes. 

Plantar fasciitis tends to be more related to the degeneration of collagen than to chronic inflammation. Having tight calf muscles can also put additional stress on your plantar fascia. 

Massage therapy helps to relax your calf and foot muscles.  It also increases circulation in the area.  Better circulation means better nutrient flow, which is extremely important when managing a degenerative type of condition.

Cancer: Post Lumpectomy or Mastectomy

Each year, approximately 268,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in women, and about 2,500 cases in men (Ruth Werner, A  Massage Therapist’s Guide To Pathology, 2019). Treatments for the breast cancer depend on stage and type of the cancer.  Treatments could include surgery such as a lumpectomy or mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy. 

Massage therapy doesn’t treat cancer, but it can address some of cancer symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments.

 For instance, massage therapy could help with muscle stiffness in the areas of your body affected by cancer. Some cancer-related surgeries remove lymph nodes. Massage improves lymph flow after the nodes are removed. Other problems cancer patients face include poor sleep, decreased appetite, constipation, low mood, anxiety, pain.  Registered Massage Therapy can help all these symptoms.

Headaches

Nearly everyone has experienced headaches at some point of their lives. According to the International Headache Society, about 90% of all people will experience a headache, and majority of these headaches will be a tension headaches. Soft tissue injuries, whiplash, muscle tightness, TMJ (jaw) disorders, poor posture and stress can all trigger tension headaches. 

By addressing muscle tightness, a Registered Massage Therapist can help to reduce frequency and duration of the headaches.  Plus, massage is great for managing stress and anxiety, which is a big part of treating most headaches.  

Not sure if Registered Massage Therapy is right for your health condition?  Call us to book a FREE 15-minute phone consultation with Yulia Agarkov, our Registered Massage Therapist.  Or speak to your physiotherapist at River East Physiotherapy to confirm whether massage therapy can fit into your rehabilitation plan.