Initially, some supporters of complementary medicine might think that a massage therapy practitioner lies on the opposite end of the healing spectrum from an orthopedic surgeon. In a last ditch hope to reduce pain, drain edema, improve function and restore range of motion, a staunch western medical cynic may perceive submitting to arthroscopic knee surgery as a loss of hope. Unfortunately, such a view enforces the separation of allopathic medicine from alternative styles of healing – like massage therapy. Massage therapists can help their clients in this situation by teaching them about the true strength of integrative medicine. In this specific context, utilizing the power of massage therapy soon after knee surgery offers the client the best of both wellness approaches: surgical repair of the damaged tissue AND bodywork to aid in the tissue’s healthful recovery.
About Arthroscopic Knee Surgery
A viewing instrument in the shape of a long tube, an arthroscope is used during arthroscopy – a surgical procedure in which the internal structure of a joint is examined for evaluation and treatment. The arthroscope contains optical fibers and lenses, and can be inserted through small skin incisions to enter the affected joint. Projecting a present time image onto a monitor, the arthroscope’s camera enables the surgeon to “see” the joint’s interior. An arthroscope used for knee surgery is only about 5 millimeters in diameter.
Because the knee doesn’t need to be totally cut and opened up, arthroscopic surgery typically results in less tissue trauma, less pain and promotes a quicker recovery. Common knee injuries for which arthroscopy is considered include:
- meniscus tears
- ligament strains and tears
- deterioration of cartilage under the patella
The effectiveness of knee arthroscopic surgery varies greatly, with some reports claiming it to be no better than a sham surgery and others demonstrating a significant improvement to the knee’s function and pain. Individuals who are candidates for this high-tech knee surgery should know that experts believe the success of this procedure frequently lies in the patient’s commitment to his or her rehabilitation.
Recovery with Massage Therapy
Rehabilitation from arthroscopic surgery typically lies with physical therapy. While physical therapy is a crucial part of the recovery process, there is more that can be done. A modality that induces relaxation, affects soft tissue and invigorates circulation, massage therapy can offer a great boost to recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. This view is shared by many in the profession. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has even taken the position that massage aids in postoperative pain relief. According to the AMTA, research indicates that massage therapy can:
- decrease postoperative pain
- decrease postoperative pain unpleasantness/distress
- decrease sympathetic responses to postoperative pain
- accelerate the rate of decline in the intensity of postoperative pain
- decrease doses of analgesics
- increase levels of calmness/feelings of well-being
Further supporting massage’s general benefit for postoperative pain, a study published in the winter 2010 edition of the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research concluded that massage therapy was a valuable tool to reduce pain severity following arthroscopic knee surgery.
While great care is warranted in addressing a postoperative knee, massage therapy that is gentle and properly applied can be of great benefit in:
- unlocking the quadriceps musculature
- improving lymph circulation in and around the knee
- smoothing out myofascial restrictions
- prohibiting scar tissue formation
- draining local edema
All of the strengths listed above help reduce pain, increase range of motion and function, and speed the healing process.
Considering how desirable bodywork’s influence can be following arthroscopic knee surgery, it’s surprising that more orthopedic surgeons and massage therapists don’t work closely together. People seeking the best solution for a problematic knee are advised to consider how integrative medicine can work for them. If knee arthroscopy is warranted, following up with a regular physical therapy AND massage therapy program is one of the best ways to claim a successful surgical outcome.