Fibromyalgia is a syndrome known for causing pain and stiffness in muscles throughout the body, with specific tender points in some areas. Other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia include poor sleep, a general sense of fatigue, severe headaches, and possibly osteoarthritis. Often, these may be accompanied by feelings of anxiety or depression (1).
While the ultimate cause for the onset of fibromyalgia remains unknown (2), there have been numerous studies thus far that have shown promise for massage therapy in managing the condition. One study showed that myofascial therapy alleviated anxiety and pain, and increased sleep and quality of life for patients suffering from fibromyalgia. The results were shown to appear immediately following massage, and for up to a month thereafter (3). Another study showed that massage therapy reduced patients’ sensitivity to fibromyalgia pain, and that these benefits lasted, in some cases, up to a year after treatment (3). A further study showed that bi-weekly, 30 minute massage sessions over the course of 5 weeks resulted in a decrease in symptoms of depression, increased the time and quality of sleep, and also decreased other symptoms of fibromyalgia such as pain, fatigue, and stiffness (4). And still a separate study showed that, while patients do benefit from massage, the treatment must be consistent in order for the benefits to last (2).
The results of studies such as these show promise for patients contending with the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Likewise, further studies addressing the condition, its origin, and the role massage and other treatments may play are needed. Massage therapy has proven effective not only at managing the pain associated with the fibromyalgia, but with alleviating the other symptoms that may be present. Client compliance is a key factor, as the lasting benefits of treatment may require regular sessions to be maintained. Equally important is the relationship between therapist and client. Open communication during every session is vital. The work performed may be uncomfortable at times but should not become painful. The client should communicate throughout the session, and never feel they are putting up with pain. Meanwhile, the therapist should be alert to cues of distress, such as hesitant breathing and unconscious guarding by the client. Benefits may be noticed during or after the first session, or may require a few sessions to be noted. Every body reacts differently to treatment, and slow progress is better than no progress. Symptoms may also reappear or increase if massage treatment is not continued even after the client begins to feel better.
If you suffer from fibromyalgia, I invite you to do your research, not only on the condition, but on how massage has proven itself a beneficial treatment. If you think it is a good fit for you, book a session with a licensed, qualified, reputable therapist in your area. In fact, try out a few until you find one who you feel truly addresses your needs.
(1) In Tappan’s Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques, by Patricia J Benjamin, 70. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2010.
(2) Purkh, Karta, and Singh Khalsa. “Easing the Constant Pain.” Massage Therapy Journal, 2010.
(3) American Massage Therapy Association. “The Power of Touch for Those Suffering from Fibromyalgia.” Massage Therapy Journal, 2012.
(4) Adams, Rose, Barb White, and Cynthia Beckett. “The Effects of Massage Therapy on Pain Management in the Acute Care Setting.” Internati onal Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork 3, no. 1 (March 2010): 4-11.