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Self-Massage for Knee Pain Relief: A New Option for an Old Problem

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects 27 million Americans; of that number, 4.3 million suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee. Unfortunately, this condition does not have a cure; therefore, easing the chronic pain that accompanies mobility is a priority. Researchers predict the prevalence of this type of arthritis will increase as the population ages. 

With symptoms often beginning at middle age, chronic knee pain may lead to fear of falling, overuse of pain medications, depression and hopelessness.Equally important, the need for cost-effective, participatory therapies aimed at managing the pain and disability that causes knee OA will also increase. Fortunately, more and more people with other chronic musculoskeletal conditions are getting pain relief using complementary therapies such as tai chi, yoga, massage, progressive relaxation and others.

This pain can also be relieved by integrated massage techniques—most often, deep tissue massage. Massage, a form of applied touch, is one of the oldest healing techniques. It has evolved in America, primarily because valid research is now available to support its therapeutic value. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, “massage therapy” is a generic term that denotes the promotion of health and well-being by way of soft tissue manipulation and movement of the body. The primary characteristics of massage are touch and movement.

In 2006, Dr. Adam Perlman of the Duke Integrative Medicine Center led a studyfinding Swedish massage is to be safe and effective for reducing pain and improving function in patients with symptomatic osteoarthritis of the knee. In addition to relieving pain, it was suggested massage could be included as an additional option to current approaches such as acupuncture. In 2012, the same team conducted another study which concluded that a 60- minute massage once a week provided therapeutic benefits for symptom relief of knee osteoarthritis.

The Atkins method of self-massage is an on-demand, self-treatment technique using various massage strokes on accessible areas of the body for therapeutic symptom relief and/or relaxation. This method is the first of its kind to be the subject of a randomized, controlled trial; The Effects of Self-Massage on Osteoarthritis of the Knee conducted at Lourdes Wellness Center in Collingswood, NJ. The results provided significant evidence that self-massage of the quadriceps muscle significantly affected knee pain, stiffness, function and range of motion. 

Quadriceps weakness is commonly seen in patients with knee OA, which begs the question as to whether it is quadriceps muscle dysfunction or knee joint changes that leads to arthritis of the knee. A common misconception is that the cause of pain and resulting disability is attributed mainly to the slow progression of cartilage degeneration that causes spur formation. But the quadriceps muscles function to move, stabilize and protect the knee joint.Structurally, muscles insert into tendons, and the tendons then insert onto the bones. when a thigh muscle is strained or torn, it can cause tendinitis or severe pain around the knee. So, when compromised,the quadriceps muscles could be the origin of knee pain and immobility.

Based on this functional theory of causation, the Atkins method focuses on self-massage intervention techniques that access the soft tissue connected to the musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction.Patients with chronic pain are now able to learn how to relieve their own knee pain on demand. Knee self-massage is an active patient centered self-therapy that provides hope and empowerment. Similarly, it can be taught individually or in a group because the technique is applied to the thigh muscles while seated and clothed. 

The Atkins method has been taught to and helped thousands of people suffering from chronic knee pain since its development in 2013. Most importantly, it is a safe, economical, effective, and drug-free method of pain management for knee OA. 

Dr. Dorothea Atkins, TH.D., RN, LMT, teaches this method and other self-care techniques at Holos Touch, at 17 White Horse Pike in Haddon Heights. She has many years of experience in deep tissue, pain management and lymphatic drainage. For more information or to make an appointment, call 856-546-7500 or visit


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