Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia
Updated: Jan 19
Fibromyalgia is condition that causes wide spread musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, often accompanied by fatigue, sleep disturbances, memory and mood issues. It is a chronic condition that is more often found in women than in men, and some studies estimate nearly 1 in 20 people are affected by this condition in some form.
Symptoms can be triggered by an injury, infection, operation, significant psychological stress, giving birth, or having another disorder such as arthritis. Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain. It can also make those with this condition more sensitive to pain stimuli, as well as cause your nervous system to overreact to pain. The Mayo Clinic goes more in depth with this article:
Western medicine commonly treats fibromyalgia with painkillers, antidepressants and lifestyle change suggestions. Counseling and support groups can also help as can light regular exercise.
I have a lot of clients who themselves or whose partners, parents or friends suffer from fibromyalgia and they tell me that they are afraid of getting massages; they fear that it will increase their pain and make things worse or have had a bad previous experience. For the first 10 years of practicing Massage Therapy, I dealt almost exclusively with chronic pain and fibromyalgia patients. Some people believe that massages have to hurt to work and this is not true! It is very important to work within a patients comfort level and I make it clear that they do not want to feel pain during a massage; a little discomfort is fine but not pain. I ask them if the pressure I use is ok and to please tell me at any time if they want me to go lighter or harder. The amount of pressure I apply is entirely up to the person receiving the massage; they are the ones in control of the treatment.
Over the years I have seen many patients benefit from regular treatments. Some of the benefits of Massage Therapy include:
1) Increased relaxation to improve sleep. The better sleep you get, the better your body can repair and rejuvenate.
2) Decreasing the effects of anxiety and depression. Some studies have shown that massage can stimulate the release of serotonin, which promotes feelings of well-being.
3) Relaxes muscles. This decreases painful muscle spasms and contractions. Sometimes when a muscle is tight, it can compress on a nerve causing more pain, so by relaxing the muscles, pain can be relieved.
4) Improve mental clarity. A relaxing massage can help relieve mental stress which can improve cognitive issues.
5) Decrease pain. Researchers believe that massage decreases proteins in the body called inflammatory cytokines; a decrease in these can lead to a decrease in inflammation. Less inflammation often equates to less pain. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, studies have suggested that Massage Therapy causes an increase in oxytocin, a hormone that is a natural painkiller.
6) Improved blood and lymph circulation. Massage is thought to improve lymph and blood circulation. When blood flow increases, the delivery of nutrients and oxygen is enhanced, which encourages healing.
This study shows that people with fibromyalgia were helped by Massage Therapy:
One final thought: often those with fibromyalgia and chronic pain are seen as hypochondriacs, are not believed, told they look fine or regarded as having mental issues. For me, it is important to be compassionate and supportive, treating my clients with empathy and respect. Sometimes that in itself can be the most beneficial part of treatment.