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Massage for Fibromyalgia

massage for fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia in a nutshell

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 4 million Americans have fibromyalgia. That’s 2% of the adult population. If you’re living with it, you already know the symptoms well. Primarily, they include tenderness and pain, as well as emotional problems.

Medically speaking, fibromyalgia is a “complex syndrome” rather than a disease. However, nobody knows what causes it. The main symptoms include pain that’s usually widespread. But the pain and tenderness can occur just about anywhere on the body. Sometimes patients feel the pain as tenderness around joints. In addition, the tenderness may feel like it’s in your tendons, muscles, or other soft tissue areas. Additional symptoms include depression, anxiety, restless sleep, fatigue, and trouble with mental tasks.

Fibromyalgia affects more women than men. In fact, 9 out of 10 patients are women. Anyone between 20 and 50 years old is susceptible.

To date, fibromyalgia has no cure. But like so many incurable conditions, there are ways you can manage the pain and tenderness. For decades, doctors and therapists have used massage. Massage for fibromyalgia gives patients very good results in pain relief. And massage helps keep pain from coming back.

Facts you need to know

The following is information that most people, even fibromyalgia patients, usually don’t know:

  • Fibromyalgia is a leading cause of depression
  • This condition is one of the most often misdiagnosed illnesses by doctors.
  • Doctors most often misdiagnose fibromyalgia as either lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
  • Patients with fibromyalgia usually have one or more other medical issues. These mostly include diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Lupus, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease may also occur.

Other interesting facts

Other statistics strongly associated with fibromyalgia are:

  • The Midwest United States has a greater proportion of fibromyalgia patients.
  • Sufferers have higher medical expenses and disability costs.
  • Patients are likely separated or divorced.
  • A fibromyalgia patient is probably a smoker and obese.
  • Fibromyalgia patients are most likely not college educated.
  • Asians have less probability to develop fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia symptoms

Fibromyalgia’s primary symptom is pain. The pain can be severe or mild. It can feel like a burning, shooting, soreness or deep aching. Sometimes the joints feel tender. Other times, an entire region like the upper back may feel sore, painful or tender. In some sufferers, the pain lasts all day. However, in others it’s worse at night but less painful during the day.

Patients should know that fibromyalgia symptoms can improve on their own. But that’s not very common. Patients should think of fibromyalgia is a long-term illness. That’s because pain and other symptoms may linger for years.

Generally, a doctor makes a diagnosis of fibromyalgia with a detailed history of the pain. Usually, a doctor will diagnose fibromyalgia if:

  • The pain has been widespread for three or more months, and
  • There are more than 10 tender areas.

However, today doctors use newer methods to diagnose this condition. For instance, the patient maintains a weekly checklist. It records the pain sensations felt on different body parts. After a few weeks, the doctor assess patterns of pain from week to week. These patterns can provide a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Massage for fibromyalgia

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health reveals recent trends. At least 99% of fibromyalgia sufferers seek complementary and alternative therapies for pain relief. Also, the NIH says massage therapy for fibromyalgia is one of the most common remedies patients use. In fact, a massage or physical therapist specializing in treating fibromyalgia is usually a very busy person. Sometimes their appointments are hard to get. Doctors tested massage for fibromyalgia in randomized controlled trials. Results showed massaged was a highly effective therapy.

Massage for fibromyalgia (or any other condition) actually covers a wide range of “manual therapies”. Actually, “massage” can take various forms. But each works a little differently. When it comes to using massage for fibromyalgia, we generally speak of three styles of massage therapy. Each one was clinically tested and found effective. They are myofascial release, connective, and Shiatsu massages.

Generally, therapists use all three massage techniques simultaneously in one session. It proves to be best for relieving the pain. Moreover, using all three techniques keeps pain from coming back for days.

The three massage techniques have some things in common. They each deeply rub and knead tissues around muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.  The pressure used in can range from a soft stroking motion to deep, focal pressure. It all depends on what each patient needs and wants. It also depends on the therapist’s judgment.

Myofascial release massage

Myofascial release massage for fibromyalgia is the most common technique used today. In fact, therapists use it for many other soft tissue conditions like when a patient has signs of carpal tunnel syndrome. Patients consistently say it relieves pain faster and the effects last longer. But this is not surprising. The National Fibromyalgia Association says that fascia represents “a hidden piece of the puzzle of fibromyalgia pain.” And “myofascial release” literally means releasing the fascia from underlying muscular adhesions. Patients welcome myofascial release massage because it provides maximum results.

Also, myofascial release massage for fibromyalgia has two other huge benefits:

  • It improves blood circulation in the affected area.
  • The massage drains excess fluid build-up around joints.

Therefore, it’s no wonder why fibromyalgia patients prefer myofascial release massage. Most have learned to ask for it by name. Thus, if you have to pick from only one massage technique for fibromyalgia, myofascial release is the best choice.

Connective tissue massage

Therapists can also use connective tissue massage. This form of massage for fibromyalgia requires slow and even strokes. However, usually the strokes are harder and deeper. Therapists must use this pressure to manipulate the deep muscles and connecting fascia.

Usually, a therapist combines connective tissue massage for fibromyalgia with lymphatic drainage. That means the manual manipulation drains lymphatic fluid from. In fact, it physically pushes the fluid away. Rhythmic squeezing and gliding over the tissue transfers fluid toward the body’s core. Encouraging fluid movement reduces local fluid build-up. Also, it helps the body drain unwanted waste products.

Shiatsu massage

Many physical and massage therapists combine Shiatsu massage for fibromyalgia into each session. This ancient technique from Japan has long been known to ease the pain of tender muscles and ligaments. It applies the manual pressure to specific points that need tension relief.

Ancient practitioners documented these points centuries ago. Each point occurs along defined (and named) pathways around the body. Shiatsu massage in one area can have a big effect on nearby or even distant body parts.

Other benefits of massage for fibromyalgia

Massage gives patients immediate and long lasting pain relief. But massage for fibromyalgia also has additional significant benefits:

  1. Sleep quality – Clinical studies show that massage for fibromyalgia improves the quality of sleep. The effects are greatest when patients get the massage in the evening.
  2. Mental clarity – Overall mental skills enhance with massage for fibromyalgia. Patients report being able to think clearer. Also, they have more mental awareness and feel less emotional stress.
  3. Muscle tone – Patients improve muscular function with massage. Those with weak or lethargic muscles report increased muscle strength and tone. In addition, patients report restored muscular energy.
  4. Headache relief – Patients with fibromyalgia have fewer headaches with massage. This is probably due to improved blood flow around the body during massage. In particular, increased blood flow the brain will certainly ease headaches.
  5. Reduced depression and anxiety – This benefit is perhaps one of the most mysterious effects of massage for fibromyalgia. Depression and anxiety are one of the hallmarks of fibromyalgia. However, massage alleviates these issues in almost all patients. It’s not clear exactly how it happens. However, it’s likely that massage helps regulate hormones actions. The hormones may affect the chemical mechanisms of emotion.


Fibromyalgia is a condition with very little known about it. Unfortunately, there is so much misconception that patients are often lost in the mire. However, every patient with fibromyalgia deserves the respect and support of family and healthcare professionals. Moreover, it’s important to understand that their pain and suffering are very real. Luckily, patients with fibromyalgia benefit greatly with massage. In fact, massage for fibromyalgia is one of them most sought after treatments to relieve the pain and tenderness. The massage techniques that work best are myofascial release, connective tissue manipulation and Shiatsu. Most therapists combine all three techniques in one session. Patients find that doing so can keep pain away for days. In summary, if we add compassion and understanding to the massage treatment regimen, patients will improve their lives tremendously.

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