Fibromyalgia affects between three and six million Americans, most of whom are middle-aged women. It is not clear what causes fibromyalgia, but researchers believe that it is a genetic disorder triggered by a serious injury or another illness. There is also evidence that people with fibromyalgia also have inherent issues with the body’s natural pain management systems.
Massage therapy can really reduce the pain, stiffness, and tender points caused by fibromyalgia syndrome. But how does it manage to do this? Massage is helpful to people with fibromyalgia because the hands-on therapy helps to improve tension and pain, improve sleep and increase circulation, which helps boost energy levels. Studies have found that massage actually enhances the production of certain pain blockers, including endorphins, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These hormones work to counteract pain signals conducted by the brain, and this would explain why massage offers such dramatic pain relief.
Benefits of Massage Therapy For Fibromyalgia Sufferers
Massage therapy is actually one of the most beneficial treatments for fibromyalgia pain and fatigue. In fact, in a survey completed by fibromyalgia sufferers, massage therapy was rated the best fibromyalgia treatment option by an overwhelming margin. Massage therapy benefits include:
- increased blood circulation to the muscles, allowing for faster muscle repair
- increased flexibility
- increased range of motion
- decreased stress and depression
- reduced pain
- reduced stiffness
- improved sleep patterns
In a 1996 study, fibromyalgia sufferers reported a 38% decrease in pain symptoms after receiving just ten, 30 minute massage sessions. They also reported a significant decrease in their sleep difficulties: they began sleeping for longer periods at a time and were disturbed less by sleep disorders.
Types of Massage Therapy
There are a variety of different kinds of massages that are offered by your massage therapist. Some of the most popular massages include the Swedish massage and the deep tissue massage. Other types of massage include myofascial release, shiatsu, and reflexology. Here are a few types of massage that you may find beneficial for relieving your fibromyalgia pain.
Swedish massage is one of the most popular forms of massage used in North America. The Swedish massage technique is designed to increase the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the muscles. This helps to flush out toxins and improve the flexibility and health of your muscles. Swedish massage is characterized by long, gliding movements, which involve stroking the body with the thumbs, fingertips, and palms. However, Swedish massage also makes use of kneading and tapping techniques, and uses vibration to benefit the body.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage is a vigorous therapy used to loosen areas of hardened or inflexible muscles and tissues. It targets the deep layers of your muscles and tendons, helping to release tension and chronic muscle pain. Deep, pressurized strokes are usually made along or across the muscles. Because deep tissue massage uses slower and deeper strokes than Swedish massage therapy, you may feel a little pain immediately following your treatment. However, this pain should disappear within a day or so.
Myofascial release techniques help to relieve stiffness and tightness in your body’s fascia, caused by myofascial pain. The fascia is a thin layer of tissue that covers all of your muscles and organs. In fibromyalgia, sometimes the fascia can become extremely short and tense, resulting in pain. Myofascial release therapy uses stretching techniques to relieve this pain. The therapist first locates an area of tightness on your body. He gradually stretches this area, holds the stretch, and then allows the fascia to relax. The process is repeated until the fascia is completely relaxed.
Finding a Good Massage Therapist
It can be difficult to find a quality massage therapist who has the knowledge and compassion with which to treat fibromyalgia patients. It is probably a good idea to take your time when looking for a new therapist. Try out a few different massage therapists to help you get a feeling for what is available to you. Once you have decided on the type of massage therapy that you enjoy most, you will be able to begin to narrow down your choices. Here are some tips on finding that perfect massage therapist:
- Talk to your friends and family members. Often, word of mouth is the best way to find a great massage therapist
- If you are interested in finding a therapist who is familiar with fibromyalgia syndrome, speak with your health care provider or contact a fibromyalgia support group. These people often have a list of all qualified massage therapists in your area.
- Contact an association involved in regulating massage therapy. These bodies will ensure that you receive information on massage therapy certification and will provide you with contacts for accredited or licensed therapists.
- Don’t be afraid to interview some therapists. Ask them where they were licensed and how long they have been practicing for. Find out what techniques they use and what their office setting is like.