The following was a treatment plan submitted during our clinical training at the Swedish Institute in NYC. It provides detailed, step-by-step instruction on a western style, medical massage approach for clients dealing with severe rheumatoid arthritis. While it might be more on the technical side, it should underscore the amount of consideration taken in a clinical setting where massage is administered every week, for a 6-8 week period.

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Goals for treatment should include: increasing flexibility and range of motion (ROM); relieving aches and pains related to muscle stiffness; increasing circulation – especially in clients with cardiovascular issues; reducing inflammation and joint pain during chronic flare ups/remissions; reducing contractures and adhesions; reducing anxiety and depression related to RA.

Bolstering to the knees, hip/lower back, and cervical spine may aid in relieving undue stress at these joints. Staying within a client’s pain threshold and using care to not apply overpressure when performing ROM, should also be observed. Some clients may develop osteoporosis, so caution should be taken with the amount of pressure used during a session.

Starting in supine, so as to better perform ROM and stretching techniques, we would begin at the arms. Moving the shoulder joint through coronal abduction/adduction, flexion/extension, medial/lateral rotation several times in order to warm up the joints and increase ROM. Moving down to the elbow and performing flexion/extension, supination/pronation, and finally the wrist with flexion/extension, radial/ulnar deviation, and circumduction. Taking the client through these gentle movements is invaluable in breaking up any fibrotic changes that may have taken place.

Applying myofascial release with passive stretching to the wrist flexors, biceps at the forearm, and pectoralis major at the shoulder, is a great way to promote length along these potentially hypertonic muscles. Resisted isometric tests (RIT) to the clavicular and sternal fibers of pectoralis major, followed by circular friction, will help to open up the chest and promote deeper breathing in this restricted area. Trigger point work, especially to the flexors of the wrist, may help to break up adhesions and promote blood flow to the area. Passive extension of the digits of the hand along the MP & DIP joints will promote lengthening in flexor digitorum superficialis and flexor digitorum profundus, respectively. Care should be taken with any ROM techniques at the wrist and fingers, since arthritic flare-ups and local osteoporosis are very common in these areas.

At the knees and ankles, gentle ROM would be performed. Cross fiber friction along the patellar ligament and muscle stripping of the quadriceps would promote length in these muscles. Mobilization of the patella itself, if not too painful for the client, would help to break up any fibrotic adhesions related to joint degeneration. Muscle stripping the tendons of the plantar-flexors and peroneals, would promote length and increase ROM. Cross fiber friction to the tendons would help to realign any scar tissue that may be present. Deep effleurage and petrissage to the foot will help to relax the client and increase blood flow to the extrinsic muscles of the foot.

In prone, vibration up the paraspinal muscles, followed by some myofascial release, would promote a deep state of relaxation and provide a nice warm-up of the area. Circular friction along the attachments for levator scapulae and upper trapezius would help to separate and realign its fibers. Muscle stripping and cross fiber friction to the erector spinae would help to release any adhesions related to muscle imbalance. At the hip, deep petrissage and circular friction along the fibers of quadratus lumborum would help to increase circulation and alleviate any pain resulting from contracture of this hip hiker muscle. Finally, RIT to the Hamstrings followed by myofascial release along its fibers would increase inhibition and allow for a deeper stretch of the fascia and its fibers.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.