Massage and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is starting to get a lot of attention. In the past, it’s been either not acknowledged by healthcare professionals or simply misdiagnosed. What is fibromyalgia? According to the Mayo clinic, fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. Think of your “fight or flight” reaction when you’re in a stressful situation. Once the situation is over, say you rescue your dog from being hit by a car, your body would calm down and return to its “normal” state. A fibromyalgia sufferer stays in the “fight or flight” response and continues to feel the muscle tightening and fascia restriction that becomes painful and uncomfortable after a period of time.

Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event. It affects an estimated 10 million Americans each year and can be difficult to diagnose because of the vagueness of the symptoms.

How does massage figure into the care of fibromyalgia sufferers? First of all, ask a person (generally women suffer) who has it what they think about touch. They’ll tell you the thought of being touched doesn’t sound relaxing because their nerves are hypersensitive. Scientists though, believe that tightened fascia (a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ) is really the key to unlocking the fibromyalgia puzzle. Think of the fascia as a sausage casing, and then related the casing to what surrounds your insides and keeps them in place. Fascia is everywhere in our body, so imagine feeling pain everywhere your fascia is: all over. In order to try to control the symptoms, clients must seek out a modality that works for them.

According to researchers, craniosacral massage, myofascial release, shiatsu massage, manual lymphatic drainage and connective tissue massage seem to be the most responsive. The goal is to use a lighter pressure in order to calm the nervous system and have the affected tissues relax. Deep pressure is not recommended because it can cause flare-ups of the symptoms the client is trying to control. I tell all my clients, pressure is relative to what it is you feel comfortable with. Talk with your massage therapist about how they can work with you to decide what’s best for your condition. Communication is key.

I have a few clients affected by this disorder and have worked closely with them to help them manage their symptoms. It involves lots of feedback and assuring them that the idea is for them to feel comfortable with the modality chosen (for instance, I do myofascial release and connective tissue massage). I would have to refer out to other massage therapists if they preferred some of the other modalities listed above. A client might use massage weekly if they are having flare-ups more than usual, and then go back to monthly maintenance once the symptoms are again under control.

One of my client’s uses massage and chiropractic care to help manage her symptoms. You have to do your research, work with you doctor and look at other professionals to decide what method of care is best for your particular situation.