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Choosing a Massage Therapist When You Have Osteoarthritis

The Right Touch May Ease Pain


Updated October 26, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Complementary treatments such as massage therapy have become increasingly popular for osteoarthritis. Complementary treatments are so-called because they are integrated into a treatment regimen that is typically more traditional (e.g., prescription medications). In other words, you don't stop taking your usual medications. Massage therapy is used "in addition to" these.

Massage therapy can be very beneficial. Massage can soothe sore muscles and joints, help you relax, relieve stress, and promote good sleep. Even with these potential benefits, many osteoarthritis patients are leery of massage therapy. They worry that massage might hurt, rather than help, them.

Get Your Doctor's Approval

There are several different types of massage: certain types may be inappropriate for a person with a chronic pain condition, while others types may be helpful. Some massage techniques apply firm pressure to the body. If you have tender joints or tissues, the pressure may be too much to bear. People with medical conditions that involve joint pain, inflammation, skin rash, brittle bones, or fractures should be cautious. First and foremost, you should discuss massage therapy with your rheumatologist or primary care doctor before you seek treatment. Discuss all of your concerns with your doctor, and follow your doctor's advice. If your doctor approves of massage therapy for you, look for a qualified massage therapist.

What to Consider When Searching for a Massage Therapist

Here are some tips for choosing a massage therapist:

  • Consider your goals for massage therapy: are you attempting to relieve pain, reduce stress, or merely relax?
  • There are different settings for massage therapy. Do you prefer a spa setting or physical therapy setting?
  • When considering an individual therapist, ask if he or she is a member of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Members of the AMTA must possess certain skills acquired through education, commit to a code of ethics, meet state and local requirements in order to practice massage therapy, and pursue continuing education.
  • According to the AMTA, 44 states and Washington, D.C., regulate massage therapy, and a license to practice may be required. Find out what the requirements are in your state, and if the therapist has met the requirements.

Massage therapists who are certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork have passed a national exam. To obtain a license to practice, many states require applicants to have a minimum of 500 hours of massage therapy training in an accredited school, pass the national exam, meet requirements for continuing education, and to carry malpractice insurance.

Find a Massage Therapist (Locator)

The AMTA has a national locator service on its website. When you go to Find a Massage Therapist, you can search for your location or your preferred massage therapy technique. With the locator, you can also find information about office hours, the therapist's education background, a brief biography, and links to their business website (with contact information) or social media links.

When searching for a massage therapist, you may encounter various licenses or certifications, including: LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist), LMP (Licensed Massage Practitioner), CMT (Certified Massage Therapist), NCTMB (has passed an exam and met credentialing requirements for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork to practice therapeutic massage and bodywork), and NCTM (has passed an exam and met credentialing requirements of National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork to practice therapeutic massage).

The Bottom Line

You should have a basic knowledge of massage therapy before approaching your doctor or a massage therapist. According to the AMTA, the four most common types of massage are Swedish (used to relax and energize you), Deep Tissue (for muscle damage), Sports (keeps the body flexible), and Chair (massages the upper body while you remain clothed and in a seated position).

You need to be able to communicate your goals and concerns regarding massage therapy. You need to be sure the therapist has credentials and is comfortable working with some who has a medical condition.


Massage Therapy: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. August 2010.

AMTA. Types of Massage. Accessed 10/22/2012.

AMTA. Questions for Your Prospective Massage Therapist. Accessed 10/22/2012.

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