Chronic pain, Treatments

Massage Therapy and Fibro Flares

Fibromyalgia is a mean condition. It hides itself in mixed symptoms that take years to diagnose;  even after starting treatment, it can hit hard with symptom flares of extreme pain, tiredness, and mental fog.

I treat patients with fibromyalgia  between flares to manage pain, stress and inflammation. Some patients have told me that if they feel a flare coming, massage can help them to head it off.  Other patients come in during a flare, or call during a flare and I let them know it isn’t safe to treat them.

A general rule of thumb is that if you can’t do gentle-moderate cardiovascular exercise for the same length of time as your massage, you should stay home. One option  is to try a shorter treatment time. If you could tolerate a 20-30 minute walk, then a short treatment can be incorporated into your day. The 60 and 90 minute treatments can wait until your symptoms are better under control.

In a fibromyalgia specific treatment my stroke lengths are long to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. Pressure is mild-moderate to avoid overtaxing your muscles and techniques are repeated to continue relaxation. All of this work to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and depress the sympathetic nervous system might help decrease pain perception and allow an increased quality of sleep.  If you have compensation patterns from holding yourself stiffly when you are in pain, or have tension headaches, specific work to decrease tension in postural muscles can reduce pain secondary to fibromyalgia.

Yoga is an excellent choice for people with fibromyalgia. Practicing mediation and mindfulness develops the coping skills you need to manage chronic pain, and research backs up integrating gentle exercise to reduce fibromyalgia symptoms. One warning: balance your flexibility work with gentle strengthening, as people with hypermobility can develop fibromyalgia symptoms.

Currently, there isn’t enough research on massage therapy and fibromyalgia to conclusively state that it will benefit patients, but early research and anecdotal data show some success.  For new clients with fibromyalgia I recommend trying massage therapy 2-4 times with adequate rest after treatments. Communication with your massage therapist about the effects of previous treatments can help them to make any necessary modifications. Remember that because massage therapy is treating symptoms of fibromyalgia and not an underlying cause, the benefits will fade over time, and you may want to commit to regular massage therapy as part of your healthcare plan.

Selected Resources:

Li YH, Wang FY, Feng CQ, Yang XF, Sun YH. Massage therapy for fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS One. 2014 Feb 20;9(2)

Castro-Sánchez, A. M., Matarán-Peñarrocha, G. A., Granero-Molina, J., Aguilera-Manrique, G., Quesada-Rubio, J. M., & Moreno-Lorenzo, C. (2011). Benefits of Massage-Myofascial Release Therapy on Pain, Anxiety, Quality of Sleep, Depression, and Quality of Life in Patients with Fibromyalgia. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM,

Hennard J. A protocol and pilot study for managing fibromyalgia with yoga and meditation. Int J Yoga Therap. 2011;(21):109-2

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