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Fibromyalgia Massage

Is Treating Fibromyalgia with Massage Effective?

Question:

After years of visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to find some relief from the often overwhelming pain that sometimes seems to overwhelm my entire body, I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia. However, this diagnosis sometimes seems more like the beginning than the end. My doctor has had my try several different medications, and while a few have provided some relief, I’ve yet to find anything that would completely free my from this debilitating pain. A friend of mine recommended massage therapy, but I’m skeptical. I associate a massage with being pampered at a luxury spa. Is massage therapy really effective for fibromyalgia?

Answer:

Research has shown that massage therapy can be effective in easing pain for people who suffer from fibromyalgia.[1] One theory on how fibromyalgia develops demonstrates how massage could be beneficial. Your muscles are surrounded by connective tissue called fascia. When the fascia becomes tense, it compresses your muscles as well as surrounding nerve tissue and blood vessels. This constant muscle tension causes the inflammation associated with fibromyalgia.[2]

Massage relaxes and releases the tension in your muscles. It also encourages the production and release of endorphins in your brain. These chemicals can lessen the depression and disturbed sleep that are common among sufferers of fibromyalgia.[3] Another study conducted by the University of Miami Touch Research Institute found that fibromyalgia patients who had regular massage therapy showed decreased pain and stress hormone levels, increased serotonin, improved sleep patterns, and an improved overall sense of well-being.[4]

Consider having massage therapy at home so you can schedule your sessions when they would be most convenient for you, and you don’t have to worry about going anywhere. This can be especially valuable when your symptoms are severe. Start with Swedish massage, which uses gentler, rhythmic movements. Other types of massage, such as deep tissue massage, may be beneficial, but you want to start with a gentler method to make sure you can handle it.

Make sure you tell your massage therapist about your fibromyalgia, including your pain points and tender spots, as well as whether you’ve had any flare-ups recently. This will help your therapist design the best treatment for you so you get the most out of your session.

To get full benefit, you need to schedule your massages consistently and have sessions on a regular basis for an extended period of time. If you schedule massage therapy sessions once or even twice a week for a couple of months, you may start to notice a reduction in your fibromyalgia symptoms. One study showed that regular massage therapy over a duration of more than 5 weeks improved pain, anxiety, and depression in people with fibromyalgia.[5] Combine massage therapy with medications and other activities recommended by your doctor for the best results.

References:

[1] PLoS One: “Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3930706/

[2] Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals: “Treating Fibromyalgia” http://www.massagetherapy.com/articles/index.php/article_id/644/Treating-Fibromyalgia

[3] PLoS One: “Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3930706/

[4] National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association: “Massage for Fibromyalgia: A Therapist’s Point of View” https://www.fmcpaware.org/massage-for-fibromyalgia-a-therapist-s-point-of-view.html

[5] PLoS One: “Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3930706/

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