As the most common cause of disability in the United States, people with knee osteoarthritis routinely seek practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine for pain relief. Thus, massage therapists are more than likely to be presented with this potentially crippling, degenerative condition. In addition to bodywork stimulating the blood supply around an osteoarthritic knee, therapists can also educate their clients on the benefit of a substance proven to improve knee joint integrity.

About Knee Osteoarthritis

The most frequently occurring type of osteoarthritis, over 10 million Americans have knee osteoarthritis. Primarily caused by deterioration of articular cartilage, knee osteoarthritis can be caused by:

  • A previous knee injury – such as a fracture, ligament tear or meniscal injury
  • Repetitive strain on the knee
  • A genetic propensity to developing knee osteoarthritis
  • Obesity
  • A problem with the subchondral bone (the bone layer underneath cartilage)

While it typically develops over a period of time, the main symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain – usually worse following activity
  • Stiffness – especially following prolonged periods of sitting
  • Limited range of motion
  • Swelling

There is no cure for knee osteoarthritis; however, a range of treatments can help manage its symptoms. The most effective plan typically combines pharmaceutical intervention, knee support and protection, bodywork and lifestyle modifications.

Swedish Massage

Massage therapy is a safe and effective way to reduce pain and improve function in adults with osteoarthritis of the knee. According to research published by the Yale Prevention Research Center and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), receiving a standard one-hour Swedish massage twice a week for four weeks followed by Swedish massage once a week for the next four weeks has the following effect on adults with knee osteoarthritis:

  • Improves flexibility
  • Reduces pain
  • Improves range of motion

Senior investigator and associate adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at Yale School of Medicine and director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, David L. Katz, MD, says, “Massage is free of any known side effects and, according to our results, clearly shows therapeutic promise. So-called ‘alternative’ treatments like massage are most important when conventional treatments are far from ideal. Currently available non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often not well-tolerated by older adults with osteoarthritis.”


First extracted and purified in the 1960s from shark and beef cartilage, chondroitin is a molecule that occurs naturally in the body. A major component of joint cushioning cartilage, chondroitin is believed to perform the following functions:

  • Helps keep cartilage healthy by absorbing fluid into the connective tissue
  • Blocks enzymes that break down cartilage
  • Provides the building blocks for the production of new cartilage

There are various kinds of chondroitin to aid the body in preserving and rebuilding new cartilage. Published in the February 2009 edition of Arthritis & Rheumatism, a European study found that a prescription form of chondroitin extracted from bovine cartilage, chondroitins 4 and 6 sulfate, can prevent degradation of the knee joint and reduce pain in those with osteoarthritis of the knee. While these results are extremely encouraging to the millions of Americans suffering with this type of arthritis, the form of chondroitin demonstrating these properties is not commonly available as an over-the-counter supplement in the United States.

Although your clients may not be able to obtain chondroitins 4 and 6 sulfate yet, sharing this encouraging news assures them that you are staying abreast of the latest health developments and may instill hope for their knees’ future. Your clients can always choose to take a trip abroad to obtain this specialized form of chondroitin themselves. Even without the ability to pick up chondroitin 4 and 6 sulfate at a local store, bodyworkers can still help reduce knee osteoarthritis’ symptoms with good, old-fashioned Swedish massage.

Recommended Study:

Swedish Massage for Professionals

More Information:

Osteoarthritis: Massage Benefits and Precautions

References:, Swedish Massage Benefits Osteoarthritis Patients, Retrieved February 8, 2009, Yale University, December 2006., Knee Osteoarthritis – What You Need to Know, Carol & Richard Eustice, Retrieved February 8, 2009,, 2009., Chondroitin Sulfate, Retrieved February 8, 2009, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2009., Progression Slowed And Symptoms Of Knee Osteoarthritis Relieved By Chondroitin, Retrieved February 8, 2009, MediLexicon International Ltd, February 2009., Chondroitin Improves Signs and Symptoms of Knee Osteoarthritis, Crystal Phend, Retrieved February 8, 2009, MedPage Today LLC, January 2009., Chondroitin, Retrieved February 8, 2009, University of Maryland Medical Center, 2009., Long-term effects of chondroitins 4 and 6 sulfate on knee osteoarthritis: The study on osteoarthritis progression prevention, a two-year, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Andre Kahan, et al, Retrieved February 8, 2009, Arthritis & Rheumatism, January 2009.