Fibromyalgia means pain. I remember watching my friend Rachel* go through the diagnosis process- the endless doctor visits, the pain, the exhaustion. The one thing that brought her some relief during this process was a massage.
She had a ton of massagers- so many that I wondered if they were actually effective for her pain.
It is instinct to rub a muscle when it feels sore. Fibromyalgia is much more than a sore muscle, however.
In this article, I will explore whether massages are truly effective for fibromyalgia. First, we’ll look at the nature and causes of Fibromyalgia. Then, we’ll look explore what some of the research says about using massages for fibromyalgia.
Then we’ll look at some of the different ways that you can get a massage for fibromyalgia. Lastly, I’ll look at a couple of other things that you can do to improve your quality of life while dealing with fibromyalgia.
Remember, this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment. Please read my full medical disclaimer here.
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What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is an extremely complex disease that causes pain and fatigue. Even experts do not completely understand what causes it (though they are getting closer and closer). Many times, fibromyalgia is linked to some sort of trauma, such as a car accident or a troubled childhood.
Experts theorize that fibromyalgia has something to do with how the central nervous system processes pain signals. For example, when we touch something, we sense it in out skin and that impulse is processed by the brain. If the sensors in your skin are not working properly, then your brain will have trouble processing the touch.
It is also possible for the sensors in the skin to work just fine but for the brain to process the sensation differently. Experts believe that this could be happening in people who suffer from fibromyalgia- the brain amplifies the normal signals that it receivse creating chronic pain and fatigue.
Of course, there are plenty of other explanations for how fibromyalgia can lead to chronic pain. However, I think that this explanation is important when we consider how a massage can possibly help with fibromyalgia.
As I see it, massages help you focus on pleasant sensations so they might provide some sort of relief from the constant pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. However, does the research support my opinion? I looked into some research articles to find out.
What research tells us about massage and fibromyalgia
One unfortunate thing about massage therapy is that there is not much scientific research on it. This is the case when it comes to massages and fibromyalgia.
There is some research but not nearly enough to draw any real conclusions. However, it may still provide some insights.
One research review found that people with fibromyalgia who received massages for more than 5 weeks experienced relief from pain, anxiety, and depression. This sounds like great news but please take it with a grain of salt.
This review found fewer than 20 research trials that fit their criteria. It is very difficult really draw conclusions from limited research. Also, even though they found that a significant number of people experienced some progress with massage therapy it is difficult to tell whether the improvement was enough to really help with their symptoms.
People in these studies may have noticed that their pain has improved to some degree yet still feel a debilitating amount of pain. It is difficult to tell from these studies if the improvement that these people noticed are actually enough to make a real difference in their quality of life.
Does that mean that you shouldn’t try massages for fibromyalgia?
Not necessarily. Massages still may be able to help. Just realize that they won’t be for everyone.
For example, if you have fibromaylgia and find massages too painful, don’t feel like you need to keep trying to get massages. There are plenty of other things that you can try out that can help. I will outline some other things that you can try later on in this post.
However, if you find massages helpful and comforting, they probably really are helping you with your fibromyalgia.
Different ways to get a massage
A couple of things that keep people from trying out massage therapy are the price and inconvenience. Massages don’t necessarily need to be expensive. You can do a simple self massage, like for your ears (which should be a pretty safe spot for someone with fibromyalgia).
You could also try an electronic massager. There is a huge variety and can be great to take to the office or use on trips.
If you want to work with a massage therapist, you should check around for someone who has experience working with people who have fibromyalgia. I think that it is wise to go to a few different massage therapists so that you can compare different styles and see who you like the best.
One of the best things about working with a massage therapist is the communication aspect. If you go to them constantly and build a relationship, your massage could end up more tailored and suited to your needs. You massage therapist would know the sore spots that they need to avoid and the areas that they can give more attention.
There are many ways to get a massage. But, as mentioned earlier, massages are not going to be beneficial for everyone with fibromalygia. Thankfully, there are plenty of other changes that you can incorperate into your life that can help with fibromyalgia. Here are a few.
Other things that you can do for fibromyalgia
You may have a visceral response to this suggestion. Afterall, excercise can cause fibromyalgia symptoms to flare up leaving you feel groggy, tired, and in pain. I’m not going to lie- initially, it will be tough.
However, in the long run excercise really can be effective for reducing fibromyalgia pain. My recommendation is to find something that is pleasant and that your doctor approves of.
You don’t have to do hours of exercise to start noticing a difference. A ten or twenty minute session is a good start. So consider what you find pleasant- it could be dancing, walking, team sports, swimming, stretching etc.- and think about how you can incorporate these into your life.
One book that is excellent for learning proper breathing techniques is Breathe by Dr. Belisa Vranich. In this book, she explains the mistakes that most people make while breathing and gives exercises to correct them. She also includes powerful breathing exercises that incorporate mindfulness, helping to heal both the mind and body.
In conclusion, massage therapy may provide some relief for people with fibromyalgia. However, it will not be for everyone. Some people may find that it aggravates their symptoms too much. Others may find that it really isn’t effective for them.
Thankfully, if you have fibromyalgia there are plenty of things that you can do that can help relieve your pain. A couple of other things that can help relieve pain are exercise and deep breathing.
Basically, there are countless other therapies that you can try. My suggestion is for you to learn what you can about other therapies so that you can have a discussion with your doctor about what you should try.
Not all therapies are ideal for everyone. Even something as seemingly harmless as deep breathing is not going to work out for everyone depending upon their health conditions and medications. So make sure that you talk with a health professional before you try something new.
In the comments, let me know if there is anything that you have found to be effective for your chronic pain. Is there anything that aggravates it? Have you ever gotten a massage for fibromyalgia? Was it effective for you?
*Names have been changed