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Fibromyalgia and Massage for Pain Relief

What is Fibromyalgia? 

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, especially muscle pain and tenderness.  Since massage focuses on relaxation, it follows that massage for Fibromyalgia can offer pain relief.  Symptoms can be intermittent, constant, or even vary from hour to hour.  They can also be subject to “flares” where the discomfort is especially intense.  Other symptoms include fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, depression, and unrefreshing sleep cycles.  Although symptoms can improve, there is not yet any kind of cure or definitive treatment for fibromyalgia. 

Although several lists of symptoms exist online, including reputable sites like the Mayo Clinic, Fibromyalgia is something that needs to be diagnosed by a doctor, as many of these symptoms may also indicate other disorders that can be just as debilitating. 

Fibromyalgia falls under invisible diseases, in that there are often no obvious outward signs and sufferers often feel like they are alone in their pain.  It is estimated that nearly 5 million people are afflicted with Fibromyalgia.  It seems to affect women more than men, with a nearly 9:1 ratio in some analyses.   

Fibromyalgia and massage for pain relief
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia


What causes Fibromyalgia? 

This might just be the million-dollar question.  There isn’t a good clear answer to this, yet.  Some research points at demographic factors, such as the female to male ratio, marriage status, education level, or even citizenship.  Other research shows links to past or present traumatic incidents.  The hypothesis there is that even small repeated traumas may push the body into overdrive, overloading the central nervous system. 

In fact, most of the recent research into this debilitating illness shows that it may indeed be a nervous system disorder.  This may explain the widespread and highly individual nature of Fibromyalgia.  For example, it’s not always just muscle pain; many respondents to these studies also report light and sound sensitivity.  Brain scans have shown patients with Fibromyalgia exhibiting a pain response even to non-painful stimuli.   

Where does massage fit in? 

Massage therapy can have a huge effect on the quality of life of a Fibromyalgia patient.  It is important to note that even more so than other clients, Fibromyalgia clients will need highly individualized massages, even to the extent that the same massage technique may not work twice.  Communication is extremely important where you are the client or the therapist.   

Five main benefits of any type of massage therapy (but especially medical massage) for fibromyalgia pain relief would be: 

  1. Improving relaxation improves sleep.  Sleep is when the body heals, rejuvenates, and processes.  Sessions in the evening or before a nap can allow for a better quality of sleep.  Unrefreshing sleep and fatigue are some of the hallmarks of Fibromyalgia and facilitating a good night’s sleep can have a huge effect on symptoms. 
  2. Improving muscle tonicity.  Tired and sore muscles don’t work very well.  Many massage techniques specifically help improve blood flow and the removal of cellular debris.  Relaxing and refreshing those muscles can restore strength and vitality to the body. 
  3. Relaxation improves mental health.  It can be hard to let go when the pain-stress cycle gets going strong.  An hour or so of time without outside stimuli can help reset the brain and calm down the central nervous system.  Make sure to talk to your therapist about music, sound, and smell preferences.  Triggering a sensitivity won’t help and again, a little communication goes a long way. 
  4. Massage can relieve headaches Many Fibromyalgia clients also suffer from headaches.  Improving blood flow to and around the brain and relaxing tight back and neck muscles can help relieve this symptom, which can facilitate better mental health.   
  5. Massage can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.  In addition to the benefits above, massage can help balance hormonal fluctuations.  These can include chronic flight-fight-freeze states and appetite disruptions.  Massage helps restore homeostasis to the body and can manage some of these symptoms. 

Fibromyalgia and massage for pain relief

What can I do at home? 

There are as many activities for relief from Fibromyalgia as there are people with the disorder.  Many studies have shown that light to moderate exercise such as walking, yoga, and stretching can help.  Exercise in general helps by releasing natural pain-relieving hormones and improving blood flow. 

Self-massage may also be an option, using something as simple as a foam roller, tennis ball, or other device.  If pain levels allow, finding and holding pressure on a painful point for 30-60 seconds can dramatically improve function of muscles and reduce activity in hyperactive nerves.  If it pulses or goes number pressure should be released immediately! 

Meditation can also be beneficial.  Finding a place free of harsh stimuli can be difficult but making an area like this in your home can be a huge change for symptoms.  Even 10-15 minutes of mediation can stimulate nervous system relaxation and ease pain.  There are many apps and books on doing this.  If you want to try this, simply set a timer for 10 minutes, get comfortable, and breathe deeply and slowly.  Focusing on your breath going in and out of your body is a perfect point to start with. 

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that requires an attentive and responsive care team.  Many studies have shown that massage therapy can be an effective tool in relief of chronic symptoms.  If you haven't tried massage for fibromyalgia pain relief, you should!

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