Massage for Fibromyalgia Pain Relief

Massage for Fibromyalgia Pain Relief

Ahh…who doesn't love a soothing massage? What's more, the right type of touch can also ease fibromyalgia pain. By Elizabeth Shimer Bowers

When it comes to life’s great pleasures, a good massage ranks high on the list. Some people indulge in massage to relax, others to loosen up after a tough exercise session or to relieve pain. Because massage offers all these benefits, it can be a great addition to your fibromyalgia treatment plan and even improve your quality of life.

“Massage can bring a lot of benefits to fibromyalgia patients in terms of alleviating the pain and discomfort associated with the condition,” says Salifou N. Bishop, a licensed clinical massage therapist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore who treats people with fibromyalgia.

A recent Israeli review published in the journal Rheumatology International found modest evidence that massage can be used as an effective fibromyalgia treatment. Perhaps more importantly, the findings suggest that for the greatest fibromyalgia symptom relief, the massage should be painless (some types can be rough), the intensity of the kneading should be increased gradually, and you should have sessions at least once or twice a week.

Getting to Ahh: Types of Massage for Fibromyalgia Pain

“Massage therapy is the most widely used type of complementary and alternative medicine in hospitals because it reduces stress, helps relieve pain, decreases feelings of anxiety, and increases general overall well-being — all of which are great for people with fibromyalgia,” says Rhonda Crockett, a licensed massage therapist at the Ohio State University Center for Integrative Medicine in Columbus who works with fibromyalgia patients. “Massage also releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.”

The key is getting the right kind of massage to help ease both the physical and mental effects of fibromyalgia. “The types that have been found to work best on people with fibromyalgia are techniques that combine kneading, pressure, friction, stretching, and heat application to promote circulation and clear the body of built-up toxins within the muscles,” Crockett says.

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Check out these forms of massage therapy for your fibromyalgia treatment:

Trigger point therapy. “Fibromyalgia can be treated with a variety of massage techniques, but I personally like trigger point therapy the best,” Bishop says. Trigger points are painful spots located in bands of muscle fibers, and people with fibromyalgia generally have more of them than people without the condition. Trigger point therapy involves deactivating trigger points using finger pressure. “Once you are able to identify those painful points and apply the pressure needed, you can often have a good outcome in terms of fibromyalgia pain and discomfort management,” Bishop says.

Swedish massage. “Swedish massage combines kneading, gliding/sliding, beating, and friction, all of which promote fresh blood to reach the areas of the body that have been nutritionally starved and deprived of nutrients and oxygen,” explains Crockett.

Swedish massage is Bishop’s second choice for fibromyalgia treatment. “People with fibromyalgia often have a lot of stress in their lives, and Swedish massage can help with relaxation and stress relief and therefore increase well-being,” he says.

Myofascial release. “Myofascial release involves applying gentle sustaining pressure into connective tissue,” explains Crockett. “It helps eliminate fibromyalgia pain and restoration of motion by elongating muscle fibers.”

Hot-stone massage. During hot-stone massage, the massage therapist places heated, smooth, flat stones on key points of the body and uses them as massage tools. “Hot-stone massage is another technique that can help the body relax and provide benefits for some people with fibromyalgia symptoms,” Bishop says.

Passive stretching. Passive stretching involves exerting an external force on a limb to move it into a new position. “People with fibromyalgia often have very stiff joints because of the constant muscle spasms associated with the condition,” Bishop says. “By gently moving their arms and legs in the same direction, we can loosen up those muscles and joints.”

Sports massage. “Sports massage is most often used before or after an athletic event, but it can also benefit people with fibromyalgia,” Crockett says. “Sports massage can alleviate stress and tension that build up in the body’s soft tissues during physical activity. It reduces heart rate and blood pressure, increases circulation and lymph flow, improves flexibility, and can help relieve fibromyalgia pain.”

Maximizing Massage for Fibromyalgia Pain Relief

“When it comes to a fibromyalgia patient with chronic widespread pain, fatigue, and muscle spasms, you want to be careful with how much pressure you apply,” Bishop says. So, one form of massage to avoid is deep-tissue massage, which focuses on muscles located below the surface of the top muscles and uses deeper pressure. “The goal is to gain function of the muscles and to help the muscles become more pliable and able to relax — deep-tissue massage won’t help with that,” he explains.

To get the most from massage for fibromyalgia pain relief, first get clearance from your doctor. Once you get the green light, look for a reputable massage therapist experienced in the treatment of fibromyalgia. “A clinical massage therapist who works in a medical facility, clinic, or hospital will best understand what’s happening in the body with fibromyalgia and be able to create a treatment plan suitable for the condition,” Bishop says, adding that your primary care physician may be able to recommend a good clinical massage therapist. “Then your physician can communicate easily with the therapist in terms of anything they should be aware of regarding your specific fibromyalgia symptoms.”

The next tip is to see your massage therapist often. “Depending on the severity of a person’s fibromyalgia symptoms, I usually recommend he or she sees me two times a week for four weeks to get the routine down,” says Bishop. He says the frequency can then taper slowly to once a week and then once a month, and that it’s helpful if you can do some self-care on your own in between sessions.

Bishop also advises that you communicate openly with your massage therapist. “Healing is a process, and talking to your therapist and sharing all your fibromyalgia symptoms can help the therapist best design a safe and secure treatment plan for you,” he say


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