Swedish Massage Improves Pain in Veterans With Knee OA

DURHAM, NC — Swedish massage appears to be a helpful option for VA patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

That’s according to  a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. It found that  Veterans with osteoarthritis of the knee benefited from Swedish massage in a VA-Duke University pilot study. (Photo: ©iStock/Steve Debenport)

 veterans who took part in the study reported, on average, about a 30% improvement in pain, stiffness and function.1

The study was conducted by researchers from the Durham VAMC and Duke University’s Integrative Medicine Center. The group of 25 veterans was mostly male whites and African-Americans, with an average age of 57 and an average BMI of around 32, which is above the obesity threshold, study authors reported.

An earlier study by some of the same researchers found the therapy effective for knee osteoarthritis in a general population, but this investigation sought to test the treatment in VA patients, who are more likely to be male and to have multiple health problems — physical or mental.

More than 90% of the 23 veterans completing the study said they wanted to continue to receive massage as part of their arthritis treatment plan and that other veterans would try massage, if it were offered at their VAMC, according to the authors.

“We had comparable rates of recruitment, among eligible participants, as those we have seen in clinical trials of other behavioral and lifestyle interventions among veterans with osteoarthritis,” said Kelli Allen, PhD, of the Durham VAMC. “That was an important aspect of feasibility for us to assess in a pilot study. Our experience suggests there is, indeed, interest in massage therapy among VA healthcare users.”

Swedish massage, introduced in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, generally uses a whole-body approach, working all the major muscle groups. Therapists apply firm but gentle pressure to compress and relax muscles, boosting circulation. Patients are typically draped with a sheet, but they can opt to wear clothes during the treatment and have only certain areas worked on, according to the report.

Results indicated significant improvement in self-reported OA-related pain, stiffness and function (30% improvement in Global WOMAC scores) and knee pain over the past seven days (36% improvement in VAS score). PROMIS-PI, EQ-5D-5L and the physical composite score of the SF-12 also significantly improved, while the mental composite score of the SF-12 and knee ROM showed trends toward significant improvement.

On the other hand, time to walk 50 feet did not significantly improve.

“Results of this pilot study support the feasibility and acceptability of Swedish massage among VA health care users as well as preliminary data suggesting its efficacy for reducing pain due to knee OA,” study authors wrote. “If results are confirmed in a larger randomized trial, massage could be an important component of regular care for these patients.”

“We’re still learning about the effects of massage for those with knee osteoarthritis — the different benefits and the outcomes it may impact the most,” Allen added. “Regarding the walking test, there are many factors that could affect the results, such as muscle endurance and cardiovascular function. So it’s not overly surprising that the results on this test, though improved, were not significantly different from baseline.”


  1. Juberg M, Jerger KK, Allen KD, Dmitrieva NO, Keever T, Perlman AI. Pilot study
    of massage in veterans with knee osteoarthritis. J Altern Complement Med. 2015
    Jun;21(6):333-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0254. Epub 2015 May 12. PubMed PMID:
    25966332; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4485373.

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