Why Massage Therapy?
Having lived with autoimmune arthritis for well over a decade of my life, I’ve had to rely on a wide variety of complementary therapies to function optimally on a daily basis, especially early on in my diagnosis.
Even before I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, one of the first practitioners that helped to alleviate some of the discomfort and pain was a registered massage therapist (RMT).
Over the years, an RMT has remained an essential part of my care team. I’m now fortunate enough to have my sister as my RMT, which means I can basically call her anytime for often-needed treatments!
I asked her to do a guest blog to share some of her knowledge and experience with massage, arthritis, and chronic disease in general. Here’s what she had to say:
From the Expert – Nicole LeBlanc, RMT
Do you have joint or muscle pain, stiffness, swelling, or tension from arthritis or other chronic ailments? Is your condition adding stress to your life and impacting your sleep? Registered Massage Therapy might be a great way to alleviate some of these symptoms.
Hi, I’m Nicole, Katie’s sister. Before I was an RMT, I was a Registered Nurse in the field of cardiac surgery. While rewarding, I realized that my patients often needed a more holistic approach to understand the root cause of their illnesses and to alleviate pain. Watching my sister struggle with arthritis and seeing the impact that RMT treatments had on her condition, I decided to switch careers over 5 years ago and focus on preventative approaches to pain management.
Massage therapy is a great complementary therapy to add you your self-care routine to combat some of the everyday struggles that exist with chronic disease. Massage Therapy is defined as:
- the assessment of the soft tissues and joints of the body
- the treatment and prevention of dysfunction, injury, pain and physical disorders of the soft tissues and joints by manual and physical methods
- a practice to develop, maintain, rehabilitate or augment physical function, to relieve pain and promote health (CMTBC)
What to expect from your initial visit
Your first visit to your RMT will include a detailed health history of your condition, with attention to your primary symptoms. Once a clear plan has been established with mutually agreed upon goals, a visual assessment will be performed. Your RMT will be looking at your posture and the way your body is responding to illness from a musculo-skeletal standpoint. We will perform some special testing which can include active and passive ranges of motion to further gather data on your presenting symptoms and how they have impacted your joints and muscles. Your RMT is trained to make this a comfortable and safe experience.
After this initial assessment, you’re ready for your session to begin!
Throughout the session, your RMT will address your main concerns and always work within your pain tolerance. The session may include Swedish massage, trigger-point therapy, joint mobilizations, myofascial release, and stretching. Your RMT can then give you personalized stretches and exercises to perform at home to maximize the benefits of your treatment.
If your main concern is acute, I usually suggest weekly massages over several weeks in order to manage symptoms. Your RMT will suggest stretches, strengthening, and hydrotherapy appropriate for the stage of healing that you’re in. Once your condition has stabilized, regular SELF CARE is important!!! Monthly massages are a great way to keep your body and mind in a harmonious state.
Massage and Autoimmunity
Throughout my career the common chief concerns I’ve addressed in association with arthritis and autoimmunity include:
- Joint and muscle pain – research has shown that a massage treatment can help decrease the substance p neurotransmitter which controls pain (Arthritis Foundation). Massage has also been shown to increase blood flow and stimulate repair following exercise or trauma (Fahey, 2018; Franklin et al., 2014).
- Depression and anxiety – life is stressful enough, but dealing with a chronic condition can increase our stress response. Massage has been shown to lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) and increase serotonin (neurotransmitter that stimulates feelings of happiness) (Arthritis Foundation).
- Swelling and joint stiffness – morning stiffness is a classic sign of arthritis and one that can be addressed through regular massage treatments and stretching (Arthritis Foundation).
- Muscle weakness- inactivity often results from navigating life with an autoimmune disease. This can lead to muscle weakness. Therapeutic exercise is crucial for creating strong muscles to stabilize joints to prevent further injury (Kavuncu & Evcik, 2004). RMTs are equipped to teach you simple therapeutic exercises to incorporate into your daily routine.
- Sleep disturbance – Autoimmunity can also lead to fatigue, pain, stress, and sleep irregularity. Massage can help by reducing pain that often impacts sleep patterns. Less pain = more sleep! (Plews-Ogan et al., 2005).
Chronic disease does not discriminate against the young or the old. Statistics show that 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmunity, and that number is on the rise for North America. For arthritis alone, one in five Canadians live with a form of the disease (Arthritis Society).
The good news is, you don’t have to suffer through a chronic disease alone. Aside from conventional medicine, there are a variety of complementary therapies that can help to ease the pain and multitude of side effects that come from living with a chronic illness.
If you are not covered by extended health care, try your local massage therapy schools for discounted rates and easy accessibility. Canadian schools include, The West Coast College of Massage Therapy, Vancouver College of Massage Therapy, and Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy, among others.
We are here to help you break the cycle of pain, stress, and depression that is often a part of life with a chronic disease. You don’t have to manage your disease in isolation. For more information on coverage and access in BC, Canada, visit this link.