Background: Massage therapy is an attractive treatment option for osteoarthritis (OA), but its efficacy is uncertain. We conducted a randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy for OA of the knee.
Methods: Sixty-eight adults with radiographically confirmed OA of the knee were assigned either to treatment (twice-weekly sessions of standard Swedish massage in weeks 1-4 and once-weekly sessions in weeks 5-8) or to control (delayed intervention). Primary outcomes were changes in the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) pain and functional scores and the visual analog scale of pain assessment. The sample provided 80% statistical power to detect a 20-point difference between groups in the change from baseline on the WOMAC and visual analog scale, with a 2-tailed alpha of .05.
Results: The group receiving massage therapy demonstrated significant improvements in the mean (SD) WOMAC global scores (-17.44 [23.61] mm; P < .001), pain (-18.36 [23.28]; P < .001), stiffness (-16.63 [28.82] mm; P < .001), and physical function domains (-17.27 [24.36] mm; P < .001) and in the visual analog scale of pain assessment (-19.38 [28.16] mm; P < .001), range of motion in degrees (3.57 [13.61]; P = .03), and time to walk 50 ft (15 m) in seconds (-1.77 [2.73]; P < .01). Findings were unchanged in multivariable models controlling for demographic factors.
Conclusions: Massage therapy seems to be efficacious in the treatment of OA of the knee. Further study of cost effectiveness and duration of treatment effect is clearly warranted. .
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00322244.