FEBRUARY 01, 2007

Swedish Massage Helps Relieve OA Symptoms

Researchers at the Yale Prevention Research Center and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found massage therapy to be a safe and effective way to reduce pain and improve function in adults with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The 16-week study was conducted to identify the potential benefits of Swedish massage on OA patients with pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. The results of the study were published in the December 11, 2006, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The 68 study participants, aged 35 years and older, all had x-rays that confirmed their diagnosis of OA of the knee. They were randomly assigned to either an intervention group that received massage therapy right away or to a wait-list control group that received massage therapy after an 8-week delay. Both groups were encouraged to continue on previously prescribed therapies. After the first 8 weeks, those participants who initially received massage therapy had improved flexibility, less pain, and improved range of motion. Those who received their therapy after the first 8 weeks experienced similar benefits to those who experienced massage therapy at study start.

Acupuncture Can Help OA Patients

A recent study published in the November 2006 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism examined the use of acupuncture as a helpful addition to routine medical care for patients with osteoarthritis (OA) and tried to determine if the effects of the treatment continue after therapy is ended. Researchers from the University Medical Center in Berlin, Germany, conducted a randomized, controlled trial of patients with chronic pain due to OA of the knee or hip.

From July 2001 to July 2004, 3553 patients were divided into 3 groups: 322 received up to 15 sessions of acupuncture during the first 3 months of the study; 310 received acupuncture during the last 3 months; and 2921 (those who did not consent to randomization) received the same routine medical treatment as the acupuncture group. Each patient was followed for a total of 6 months, and quality-of-life and OA surveys were used to measure outcomes at study start, 3 months, and 6 months. Patients with chronic pain due to OA who received routine care and acupuncture were shown to have significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life, compared with patients who received only routine care, according to researchers. They also stated that outcomes were similar for both acupuncture groups.

Smokers with OA Risk Cartilage Loss

Men who smoke and have osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee risk more painful and progressive versions of the disease than nonsmokers, according to researchers from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn. They looked at 159 men who had OA of the knees and were monitored at study start, at 15 months, and at 30 months. The affected knees were scanned and the severity of pain was scored. Of all the participants, 12% were active smokers at the start of the study, smoking an average of 20 cigarettes a day for an average of 40 years. Those who smoked were usually younger and thinner—factors that normally protect patients from OA. The smokers, however, were more than 2 times as likely to have a significant degree of cartilage loss, compared with the nonsmokers. Those who smoked also reported a greater degree of pain severity.

Researchers suggest that smoking may alter a patient's pain threshold. Smoking also increases the levels of toxic substances in the blood and starves tissues of oxygen, which may speed up the loss of cartilage. The findings were published in the January 2007 edition of the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Self-management of OA Eases Stress, But Not Pain

A study published in the British Medical Journal Online in October 2006 showed that self-management programs for patients with osteoarthritis (OA) do not reduce patients' experiences with pain or the number of visits to the physician for OA. Patientcentered arthritis self-management programs were tested on volunteers in the United States, and the results of the study showed that, while these programs helped to reduce anxiety for patients with OA, they had a negligible effect on physical pain.

The study involved 812 patients with OA in the hips and/or knees who were divided into 2 groups. One group was placed on a 6-session arthritis self-management program with an education booklet, and the second received the education booklet alone. The patients completed a questionnaire at the start of the trial, after 4 months, and after 1 year. Those in the self-management program experienced a reduction in anxiety levels and an improvement in their confidence to manage their symptoms. Neither group, however, experienced a significant reduction in pain or improved physical functioning.

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