While the name ‘massage therapy’ is relatively new, the healing power of touch has been used for thousands of years.
In fact, there are references to massage therapy in ancient writings from India, Egypt, Japan, China, & Mesopotamia. Perhaps the earliest depiction of massage comes from the Tomb of Akmanthor (“The Tomb of the Physician”) in Saqqara, Egypt. In the wall painting, two men are working on the feet of two other men. Archaeologists date the painting to 2330 B.C.
Since the times of the ancient Egyptians, massage strategies and technologies have progressed. Beyond using hands, elbows and feet to administer massage, some practitioners will use hot stones, water-pressure, and warm baths.
Despite this variety, these styles of massage therapy can be used to achieve certain health goals including:
- reducing pain
- decreasing state and trait anxiety
- reducing subclinical depression
- temporarily reducing blood pressure and heart rate
- and other neuromuscular benefits
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that a good amount of research has been conducted regarding health and massage. While there are some conflicting findings, the science suggests massage may improve the quality of life for people with chronic conditions, cancer, and mental health concerns.
Is massage therapy safe for people with lupus?
If you are experiencing a lupus flare, it may be a good idea to postpone massage therapy – particularly if massage therapy is not already a part of your treatment regimen. Additionally, if you have any open lesions or sores on your body, you may not qualify for service based on the policies of the massage therapy office.
In general, the NIH says that massage therapy offers benefits with very few risks, when provided by a trained professional. Most states require massage therapists to be licensed before they can practice.
This can be compared to licensure for doctors, physical and occupational therapists, a dietician, and other clinicians. While the duration and topics vary for the different professions, the health professionals are required to complete an approved curriculum and prove competency. Another reason to look for certified individuals is that insurance may cover massage therapy. But, insurance companies likely will not provide coverage for unlicensed professionals. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) website can help you find licensed professionals near you — and you can find approved providers through your health insurance.
Cutaneous lupus safety and massage therapy
The Lupus Foundation of America shares that people with cutaneous lupus should be careful when receiving strong, vigorous massages. Forceful kneading can cause bleeding and/or bruising under the skin. In cutaneous lupus, these types of injuries can cause skin lesions as a result of the Koebner phenomenon. Essentially, this means that the damage caused by cutaneous lupus can be spread by the force of the massage.
Additionally, most massage therapists will use oils or lotions. If you have allergies, be sure to ask about any potential irritants. And, it is important to communicate with the massage professional about your health concerns, goals for treatment, and preferences.
Research into lupus, fibromyalgia, & massage therapy
Are people with lupus using alternative therapies, such as massage, to combat lupus? A study published in 2000 in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology asked that question using a cohort of 707 people with lupus in 3 countries: the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Around 19% of people in the sample admitted to using massage therapy to battle lupus. There was little difference among the countries in rate of usage. And, since this study was published, massage therapy has been increasingly studied and paid for by insurance companies. It is likely that this level of usage has increased.
Lupus & massage therapy
There are limited controlled trials on the effectiveness of massage therapy for people with lupus. However, there is some evidence of effectiveness via case studies.
In health research, a case study is a formal write-up by clinicians about a particular person. Often, they highlight a novel treatment option or a rare health condition. It is not possible to determine effectiveness of a treatment from a case study because there is only one participant who may or may not be representative of the rest of the population. However, they can provide insights that can lead to future research in an area.
A case study published in 2014 explored the role of both acupuncture and massage therapy on a 41-year old woman with lupus. The woman received 20 minutes of both therapies daily for 30 days (with 7 days of rest in between sessions after the first 15 days).
The clinicians reported positive outcomes of the interventions including:
- decreased pain (as measured by the Visual Analog Scale)
- less sleepiness during the day
- improved quality of sleep (as measured by the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index)
- improved quality of life (as measured by the Short-Form 36 Version 2 Health Survey)
In conclusion, the clinicians stated that additional research into the value of massage therapy is necessary to determine the benefits for people with lupus.
Fibromyalgia and massage therapy
In 2014, a meta-analysis was published exploring the effectiveness of massage in battling symptoms of fibromyalgia. A meta-analysis is a study that tries to combine a number of other studies to increase the power of the conclusions that can be reached.
The researchers looked at 9 randomly controlled trials (RCTs) that involved 404 clinical trial participants. There was some large variety in the duration of the massage therapy sessions (25-90 minutes) and the amount of time that participants received massages (from 1-24 weeks). Still, the researchers obtained some fascinating conclusions.
When people with fibromyalgia continued a massage therapy course of treatment for more than 5 weeks, the positive benefits included:
- decreased pain
- improved anxiety
- decreased depression
These results are promising. While the underlying reason why these benefits is not known, the researchers speculated that there is an interaction between both physical and psychological patterns.
If you are interested in including massage therapy in your treatment plan, speak with your doctor. They may know of practitioners that have experience working with people with lupus in your area.