Managing Fibromyalgia with Massage

For someone with Fibromyalgia, dealing with chronic muscle pain is a constant battle which many feel they are losing. Fibromyalgia may not be life threatening, but it is a condition that can be very distressing for the person who has it, especially as currently there is no clinical treatment pathway, with no two sufferers responding the same to the few treatments that are available.

There is however one renowned treatment for the relief of Fibromyalgia symptoms, “Massage Therapy”. The aim of massage therapy in Fibromyalgia is to relieve the pain and improve relaxation and sleep quality.

Fibromyalgia can be associated with any of the following: Widespread chronic pain, fatigue, cognitive disturbances such as memory problems, mood swings and emotional distress. This pain is real, and the cognitive symptoms are distressing. Approximately 2 to 5% of the population suffer from fibromyalgia.

So how does Massage therapy benefit those with fibromyalgia?

Increasing Circulation – Fibromyalgia can cause sensitivity to touch; therefore, this rules out deep tissue treatment, meaning that massage is very gentle. The techniques used encourage circulation to the muscles, with the objective to deliver nutrients to the cells in the body and clear the tissues of any toxins and waste. The therapists aim will be to deliver oxygen to the muscle tissues. This is imperative in the treatment of Fibromyalgia as it assists with reducing stiffness and pain.

Relaxation and Pain Relief – Massage is an amazing treatment for fibromyalgia sufferers as it deeply relaxes the body. Relaxation reduces the heart rate, increases the range of movement in the joints, and encourages endorphin release (the natural painkillers in the body). Regular massage treatments help bring the body back in balance, which leads us to the next wonderful benefit of encouraging a good night’s sleep.

Rest and Sleep – Those with fibromyalgia often claim that they wake up tired, even when they have slept all night. Often people suffer from a lack of deep sleep, which is vital for repairing and restoring the body. By helping the body re balance through relaxation, we assist the person to get a deeper and more restful sleep.

Releasing Muscle Tension and Headaches - People with Fibromyalgia often find that their muscles are constantly tense and as a result they are unable to relax. Massage therapy can help break that cycle by relaxing and lengthening the muscles. This will allow their body to remember how relaxation feels, making it easier to reduce overall muscle tension. People with Fibromyalgia can also experience chronic pain and tension in the upper back, shoulders, and neck leading to chronic tension headaches. Again, regular massage treatment can lead to less muscle tension, leading to a reduction in tension headaches and as a result, leading to a lesser requirement for medication. If lower back pain is an issue, regular massage can assist with reducing the pain levels leading to a reduction in overall pain.

Anxiety & Depression - Regular soothing massage treatments have been proven to help people suffering from anxiety and depression. A study published in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety found participants who received regular massage therapy for 12 weeks had a 50 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms lasting up to six months. This is mostly due to the relaxing effects on the muscles, release of endorphins and the increase in cortisol that massage is said to provide. You can read the full article here.

Types of Massage for Fibromyalgia

Its my clinical experience that Neuromuscular therapy and Manual Lymphatic Drainage are two type of Massage/physical therapies to help with Fibromyalgia.

Neuromuscular therapy targets muscular and skeletal pain at the source, providing you with instant relief, reducing pain and increasing your range of movement is one of the best types of massage/myotherapy to help with acute flare ups and chronic pain.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage targets the parasympathetic nervous system helping to aid with rest and digest, giving our nervous symptom the simple message of "calm down". Its also useful for increasing the lymph system and helping the body to get used to the sensation of touch without pain.

Summary of treatment options

At this stage there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, however there are ways to manage the symptoms which must be tailored to the individual.

Management of fibromyalgia consists of a combination of the following:

  • Education about the disease - It is imperative that the client with fibromyalgia understands as much as possible about the condition in order to help manage their condition;

  • Nutrition – Including a well-balanced diet and identifying certain foods that may trigger symptoms, it’s also important for overall health, increasing energy levels and maintaining a healthy body weight;

  • Gentle Exercise - To help with general conditioning, stamina, sleep and stress reduction;

  • Massage - For pain management, stress reduction and improved quality of sleep;

  • Stress Management - Stress can aggravate pain levels, worsening the condition and leading to anxiety and depression.

  • Balancing Rest and Activity - It is important to balance your activity and rest, evaluating this day by day, hour by hour if needed. Trying to do everything at once when feeling well often leads to a flare up of symptoms and fatigue.

  • Pharmaceuticals – Prescribed by your doctor and used in conjunction with the above.

Capri Clark is the founder of Bayside Remedial Massage and Healing in Brisbane. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Nursing and a Diploma in Remedial Massage. Capri's gentle techniques bring a huge amount of care and skill to her treatments. If you would like to book in for a session with Capri, you can click here.