The Pros and Cons of Massage Therapy for Psoriatic Arthritis

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The Pros and Cons of Massage Therapy for Psoriatic Arthritis

When you have psoriatic arthritis, getting a massage can relieve some symptoms, like pain and stiffness, but there are precautions that you should take.

Massage is one of the most common complementary therapies for everything from anxiety and insomnia to back and neck pain. If you have psoriatic arthritis (PsA), massage may relieve some of the pain and stress associated with the condition.

“I often hear that people with psoriatic arthritis benefit from massage or occupational therapy once they go,” says Ana-Maria Orbai, MD, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, who specializes in arthritis and rheumatology.

But Dr. Orbai stresses that it should be viewed as an adjunct therapy and is not intended to replace medication or other treatments. As with any complementary treatment, you should consult with your healthcare provider first.

Many patients underuse complementary therapies like massage, perhaps because of uncertainty about the benefits, according to Orbai. So how do you know if massage is for you?

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One thing to consider is if you’ve had a massage before developing psoriatic arthritis — and, if so, whether you found it useful.

“I always tell my patients with psoriatic arthritis if something is helpful and it brings relaxation and decreases their pain, they should continue to do it,” says Orbai. “If it doesn’t, they should stop it.”

Massage Can Help Improve Your Mood

Massage can actually improve your emotional state by reducing stress hormones and increasing feel-good brain chemicals, like serotonin. That emotional lift can benefit many people living with psoriatic arthritis.

According to a study published in the journal Archives of Dermatology, people living with psoriatic disease were almost 40 percent more likely to be depressed. Similarly, a study published in May 2014 in the Journal of Rheumatology found that the likelihood of depression is even higher for people with psoriatic arthritis than for people with psoriasis alone.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that massage therapy was significantly associated with alleviated symptoms of depression.

Could Massage Trigger a Flare-Up?

Psoriatic arthritis patients who also have skin psoriasis may be concerned that massage could make their condition worse. In some cases, skin injuries or infections can cause new psoriasis plaques to form. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon.

But the risk of massage triggering that kind of reaction is not very likely, according to Vinicius Domingues, MD, a rheumatologist in private practice in Daytona Beach, Florida, and a medical advisor to CreakyJoints, an online patient community for people with arthritis.

Koebner phenomenon would only happen if there was a lot of friction or if there was an allergic reaction to a lotion or oil, Dr. Domingues says. “If the therapist is simply providing stimulation and tissue massage without significant friction on the skin, that shouldn’t be an issue,” he says.

Orbai agrees. “A flare-up can happen if there is injury, but massage is not something that would typically lead to skin injury,” she adds.

Share Concerns, Symptoms With a Massage Therapist

Vishnu Dass, a massage practitioner in Asheville, North Carolina, and member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association, says people with psoriatic arthritis who are getting a massage should discuss their condition and symptoms with their message therapist.

“As a therapist, I would check in with the patient about the level of severity of their psoriatic arthritis,” Dass says.

Be sure to tell your massage therapist if you have sore joints and ligaments, because that could be an issue, says Orbai. “If there are psoriasis lesions on the skin over muscles or joints that would be worked on, that should also be noted,” she adds. “If the skin has active psoriasis lesions, a massage could be painful.”

 

Read on: The Pros and Cons of Massage Therapy for Psoriatic Arthritis

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