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Massage Therapy as Treatment for Fibromyalgia

November 1, 2021

Fibromyalgia is a pain condition that is fairly common throughout the United States. Although there is no cure, there are various treatment options available. According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), “massage therapy can be a beneficial part of an integrative treatment plan for those who suffer with fibromyalgia syndrome.”

What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by muscle pain and tenderness throughout the body. More specifically, symptoms consist of chronic pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues; fatigue and difficulty sleeping; headaches; and cognitive difficulties. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is estimated that fibromyalgia affects five million Americans over the age of 18 and of those, between 80 and 90 percent of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women. However, it may also affect men and children. Most people are diagnosed during middle age.

More recent research has suggested that the syndrome is actually a nervous system disorder. This explains why fibromyalgia patients tend to be hypersensitive to different stimuli. According to Dr. Michael Schneider, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of multiple studies on fibromyalgia, “The classic fibromyalgia patient just isn’t tender to the touch and can’t submit to mechanical pressure. They’re sensitive to light, sound, [may have] multiple food allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities, and they don’t tolerate heat and cold real well.”

Although it is unknown what exactly causes fibromyalgia, it is thought to be the result of stressful or traumatic events, repetitive injuries, or certain diseases. According to some scientists, a person’s genes can make them overreact to certain stimuli that other people would not find painful. People living with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis) are thought to be more likely to also have fibromyalgia. In addition, women who have a family member with this disorder may be more likely to experience fibromyalgia themselves.

There is no one treatment that cures fibromyalgia or relieves all of the symptoms, so an integrative approach tends to work best for most people.

 

How Massage Can Help
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), “Fibromyalgia is a pain condition frequently seen by health care providers, and one in which there often is no universally effective treatment. Studies have found that up to 91% of people with fibromyalgia use some form of CAM, and up to 75% use massage therapy.” A study in 2011 demonstrated that massage therapy caused reductions in sensitivity to pain at tender points. Additionally, a 2014 study (which reviewed several other studies concerning the effects of massage therapy on fibromyalgia patients) found that therapeutic massage had immediate beneficial effects on improving pain, anxiety, and depression in patients with fibromyalgia. According to this same study, massage therapy is particularly effective when administered to soft and connective tissues, since it improves muscle flexibility as well as regulating local blood and lymph circulation.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) acknowledges that although sample sizes are small, research indicates that in respect to fibromyalgia syndrome, massage can:

  • Reduce pain
  • Improve quality of life
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Decrease depression
  • Increase sleep hours and quality of sleep
  • Reduce tender points
  • Decrease use of analgesics
  • Decrease cortisol levels
  • Decrease stiffness and fatigue
  • Work well in an integrative treatment plan

Combining Treatments for Improved Relief
Although many people living with fibromyalgia tend to be very sensitive to touch, I have worked with some clients in my massage practice who can actually tolerate relatively deep pressure. For clients who are sensitive to touch, light to medium Swedish massage is typically well tolerated. Since every fibromyalgia client is unique, it is important that I always make sure they are comfortable with the amount of pressure being applied during their massage. Hot stone massage is very relaxing to the fibromyalgia client, as the heat helps to sedate the nervous system. Cupping (also known as vacuum therapies) is also very effective in sedating the nervous system. Several other common conditions (insomnia, auto-immune disorders, and PTSD) also benefit from nervous system sedation. Since cupping provides relief of chronic inflammation and lymph congestion, it is an effective approach in relieving conditions such as fibromyalgia.

There is no one treatment that cures fibromyalgia or relieves all of the symptoms, so an integrative approach tends to work best for most people. There are prescription medications that may be effective, and self-care is very important to help control the major symptoms of fibromyalgia. This includes getting enough sleep, exercising, following a nutritious diet, and, of course, therapeutic massage treatment has been shown to positively benefit fibromyalgia patients.

Kristina Mozzicato is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork by the NCBTMB. A 2009 graduate of the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy, she is also certified in Cupping and ACE MediCupping™.

Kristina is the owner of Abundant Health Massage Therapy & Wellness in Farmington, CT and was named a Natural Nutmeg Magazine 10Best Award recipient in the category of Massage and Bodywork.

For more information and convenient online booking, please visit: www.abundanthealthct.com.

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