While there are many medications available to treat ankylosing spondylitis, the form of arthritis caused by inflammation of the joints in the spine, some people find that massage is a good addition to their ankylosing spondylitis treatment. The gentle kneading of a massage session can help relax muscles that have become sore and stiff because of the inflexible “bamboo spine” that’s common with the condition.
“Muscles work by taking joints through a range of motion,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and director of spine service at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. “When two bones are fused together, there’s no longer motion there, so the muscles get tight and can be a source of pain. If you can relieve that stiffness, that’s good.”
Most medical professionals prefer to treat ankylosing spondylitis through non-surgical means, Dr. Goldstein added, and massage can help accomplish that. Massage may also work by reducing inflammation -- a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine found that massage therapy reduces the activity of inflammatory substances in the body, which could have a pain-relieving effect.
Plus, massage feels good, and visiting a spa or massage studio is simply a relaxing experience, especially when compared to the tense, sometimes harsh atmosphere of a doctor’s office. “When someone’s in a pain cycle, something calming and soothing can be very effective,” said Sara Daly, PT, a physical therapist and massage therapist who owns Waterfalls Day Spa in Middlebury, Vt.
4 Massages for AS Pain Relief If you’re ready to try massage therapy for ankylosing spondylitis pain, you’ll find that there are many forms available. Here are a few that you may want to try:
- Swedish. This is the most popular type, and it can be a good ankylosing spondylitis massage. It uses long strokes, circular movements and kneading to loosen tight muscles. Pressure can range from very light to deep, depending on the client’s preference. “You’re really trying to get blood circulation going in the muscles,” said Rachel Simon, PT, a massage therapist.
- Shiatsu. In this form of massage, the practitioner massages specific spots that are said to relieve pain elsewhere in the body. The areas massaged will depend on what type of pain you're having. Practitioners may also lightly stretch your limbs. Proponents of shiatsu say that it helps to balance the flow of qi, which traditional Chinese medicine says is the life force present in all living things.
- Lymphatic massage. Also known as lymphatic drainage massage or a “detox massage,” this kind of massage uses light, patterned strokes to help excess lymphatic fluid drain into the bloodstream. “That type of massage is very good for people with arthritis, because they sometimes have a lot of excess fluid from the inflammatory process that’s been occurring,” Daly said.
- Petrissage. If you opt for this massage technique, your therapist will gently lift your skin and knead or roll it. This can help lengthen the tissues that connect to your muscles, enabling them to relax a little. “Different muscle groups work in conjunction together and attach to the skin layer,” Simon said. “Adding a little stretch and pliability can cause greater relief from discomfort.”