Self-massage for rheumatoid arthritis & joint pain: Best pain relief tips

Heather Campbell
 min read

Self-massage for rheumatoid arthritis & joint pain is really quite possible and not as difficult as you may think.

Self-massage for rheumatoid arthritis & joint pain: Best pain relief tipsThink of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. With an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and an aging population, these diseases are on the rise.

Rheumatic diseases affect the locomotor system (musculoskeletal system) responsible for human movement. Self-massage is a safe and cost effective way of alleviating pain and increasing blood flow to areas which cannot be reached by hand due to their position deep within the body.

Read on to learn about how massage can help with rheumatic problems and get to know some helpful self-massage tips for pain relief.

Self-massage for rheumatoid arthritis & joint pain: Introduction

Each disorder has different pathological processes, but their consequences on the body’s functions are essentially the same:

  • Joint degeneration
  • Appearance of joint deformities and deviations
  • Loss of joint mobility
  • Inflammations
  • Joint pain

There are two main groups of rheumatic processes: those generated by the organism itself and those resulting from traumatic injuries or mechanical disorders in the joints.

Massage and moderate exercise have therapeutic effects on the consequences of these chronic processes.

Different types of joint elements

The joints are the junctions between the bones, the axes that allow the movements of the human body. There are different types and their composition can be quite complex.

  • Discs and menisci: blades of tissue that act as shock absorbers within the joint and that improve movement.
  • Cartilage: elastic and flexible tissue that covers and protects the joint surfaces in order to avoid direct contact with the bones during movement and lessens wear and tear.
  • Ligaments: strips of very resistant fibrous tissue that reinforce the fixation and maintenance of the joint.
  • Synovial membrane: tissue that lines the inner walls of a joint. It secretes the synovial fluid that fills the joint cavity and lubricates it, making joint movement easier and smoother. Synovial fluid also nourishes the articular cartilage.
  • Capsule: membrane that joins the two bones, delimits the joint cavity and constitutes the outer envelope of the joint.
  • Articular surface: parts of the two bones that are in contact.

Suffering can be caused by injury or degeneration of these various elements.

The periosteum can also cause very intense pain. This very sensitive tissue covers the bones, and can be affected by erosion in the most advanced stages of disease.

It is certain that all the parts of the joints are very deep, and it is almost impossible to access them with the hands.

However, self-massage for rheumatoid arthritis & joint pain can benefit the patient, as an indirect consequence of the mechanical effects of applying the masseur’s hands.

Effects of massage on rheumatic problems?

  • Massage increases the patient’s self-esteem by actively participating in the fight against his/her chronic pain.
  • It decreases the muscular contractures (tightening), which appear as side effects.
  • Massage improves the sensitivity of the afflicted area.
  • It fights against the weakening and degeneration of the protective structures of the joints: ligaments and muscles.
  • Massage increases the blood supply to the affected area of the body.
  • It facilitates the elimination and local elimination of waste that cause inflammation.
  • Massage weakens pain.

Limits of therapeutic massage on rheumatic disorders?

  • It has no effect on joint deterioration.
  • It does not prevent the progression of the disease.

Cold or hot compress?

The pain can be relieved by the patient himself by applying a cold or heat source.

However, heat should never be used during acute attacks or when the first signs appear.

The joint area is very inflamed at these times, and the heat could make the inflammation worse. Cold is therefore recommended to control inflammation.

Massage should not be done during the inflammatory phase because it increases the temperature in the treated area of the body.

Self-massage and self-mobilization of joints

Self-massage for gut health and rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain does not have to be very intense. When treating degenerative areas of the body, the pressure should be light.

The objective is not to affect the joint itself, but to obtain a more general impact. For example, avoiding tightening in the muscles surrounding the joint, or improving the blood supply to the area.

In addition to the classic massage gestures, active and passive self-mobilization and stretching should be used to warm up the joint.

In most cases, one can be seated on a chair or the floor. It is the position that allows the best mobility to access the different areas of the body.

Obviously, depending on the severity of the case, the ideal position will be sought to allow access to the joint to be treated with the hands without forcing the rest of the body.

A massage will work on one joint, then immediately after the symmetrical joint on the other side of the body.

Even if there is an issue with just the one knee, both should be massaged. This is done preventively and relieves the healthy joint that is unconsciously subjected to a greater workload to make up for the afflicted one.

In an ideal lifestyle, self-massage for rheumatic problems should be practiced at least once a day, because massage has real preventive effects.

At the same time, it is more difficult to act when the pain is already intense, so you may want to seek professional help.

The knee

Knees affected by rheumatism often also suffer from the appearance of bone and joint deformities.

Therefore, it is very important not to force it so as to avoid degeneration and weakening of the muscle and ligament protection.

Consequently, forced postures such as squatting should be avoided, care should be taken not to walk or climb stairs too often, and a cane should be used to reduce the load when walking.

Osteoarthritis of the knee is the most common form of osteoarthritis.

Palpate and roll

It is common to find areas of adhesions where there is overload due to a joint suffering from rheumatism. When the knee has this type of disorder, the quadriceps will be tackled to relieve it.

To combat this problem, the tissues are pinched between the thumbs and forefingers of each hand, and the bulge formed is pushed from the inner thigh to its outer side. This gesture is easier to practice in a transversal way.

With the thumbs, knead below the patella

For this self-massage, you will need to massage the insertion area on the upper part of the shin.

Place your thumbs just below the patella at the level of the soft tissues that may be palpated.

Then massage the top and sides of the fiber bundle with circular movements and alternating thumbs.

To continue the massage on the leg, we can go down along its the leg face where the anterior tibial muscle and the peroneal muscles are located, because otherwise would only feel the tibia.

Circular massage around the knee

Both thumbs are used to remove tension from the patella area. To do this, the knee must be fully extended, without active muscle contraction.

It is very difficult to mobilize the patella if the leg is not supported and relaxed. With your thumbs, you go all the way around the kneecap. With each passage, the area must relax a little more.

With fingers and palms, knead above the patella

For this self-massage, you will have to be a little flexible and rotate your trunk, looking for the most convenient position.

Pull on the muscular and tendinous tissue with the fingers of one hand, then compress the areas of tension with the thumb of the other hand in the opposite direction.

The hands should be placed transversely to the leg. The area of greatest tension is just above the patella.

You should still climb up on the thigh using the same technique to avoid contractures.

Kneading of the goosefoot

The goosefoot (pes anserinus) is a tendon structure found in the posterior and medial region of the knee. Joint degeneration can easily affect this insertion area.

To massage it, practice circular movements with your fingers.

Avoid massaging the popliteal fossa (or hock), i.e. the back of the knee, where important vascular and nerve connections are located.

It is possible to do this massage sitting down, with the knee half bent, using the opposite hand.

With the fingers, symmetrical kneading

The best position for this massage is seated, with the knee raised to the height of the arms to avoid any back tension.

You place one hand on each side of your knee, then describe circular movements with your fingers (without thumbs) starting from the lateral parts of the thigh to reach the calf.

If deformations are found, avoid putting too much pressure on them and seek professional help.

The hip

Rheumatic degeneration of the hip causes significant discomfort because the joints of the lower limbs constantly support the body’s weight.

Besides the pain, the patient loses mobility, and certain movements become impossible, such as extending backwards in hip osteoarthritis.

Therefore, it is crucial not to overload your joints and prevent their deterioration:

  • Avoid being overweight,
  • use a cane to walk,
  • don’t stand or sit for too long,
  • don’t sit on very low chairs, and
  • play sports that promote hip extension and strengthen the gluteus maximus and hamstrings.

With the knuckles, kneading of the gluteus maximus

This massage can be done sitting on one buttock only so that the other is free of any support, or lying on the side.

The gluteus maximus is a very powerful muscle. Use the knuckles of our folded fingers to massage it with circular movements.

The entire surface is covered from the lumbar region to the back of the leg, stopping at the most tense or painful areas.

Most often, the tension areas are in the muscle’s central region where the posterior part of the hip joint can be palpated.

Knead the adductors with palms and fingers,

These muscles extend over the entire inner thigh and even the groin area, where rheumatic pain can frequently occur.

In a seated position, the legs are spread slightly apart so that both hands can be massaged transversely to the thigh.

Move down from the groin to the inner part of the knee, then go back up using the same technique.

Kneading the anterior aspect of the thigh and pelvis

There will be less tension on the quadriceps and psoas in the same sitting position, but with the leg less flexed.

These last two muscles are responsible for hip flexion. And although the psoas is deep and cannot be massaged directly, massage can still help while preventing muscle tightening.

Circular movements are made with the fingers from the top of the pelvis at the insertion of the muscles to the thigh.

With the knuckles, kneading the abductors

The abductor muscles of the legs are found in the lateral region of the thigh. It is the tensor of the fascia lata and the gluteus medius.

Joint degeneration results in overload and tension in this area.

Sit in a way that the leg to be massaged is slightly elevated and you won’t have to bend forward too much.

You can sit on a chair with your foot on a high stool or on the floor on a mat.

Start with a circular massage with the knuckles, which will start from the hip and go down to the side of the knee.

Then go back up without changing the hand position or movement.

If, in passing, you meet any tension points or painful areas, take the time to massage them for a few extra seconds.

Self-massage for rheumatoid arthritis & joint pain: Conclusion

Sometimes time and money restrict our ability to engage professional help. The reality is that a self-massage for rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain, with a little patience, is possible.

This post gives some manageable tips to help alleviate pain without breaking the bank or your back.

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About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More