More than 3 million Americans have Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition with no known cure. Fibromyalgia is defined by body-wide pain and sensitivity to touch. It is also known as Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) because other symptoms are not uncommon. Women are far more likely to experience Fibromyalgia. Overall, Fibromyalgia is a complex disorder that can be managed, but not cured. Let’s take a look at how taking massage classes can help Fibromyalgia patients.
As with all diseases, the first step is to cultivate strong understanding of Fibromyalgia through massage therapy classes, including symptoms, potential causes, and what research reveals about how massage impacts Fibromyalgia patients.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
- Widespread muscle pain and tenderness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Stiffness in the joints
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bowel and bladder problems, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Chronic headaches
- “Fibro fog,” or brain fog, challenging memory and cognition. Some researchers believe fibro fog stems from the poor sleep that Fibromyalgia patients often experience
- Sensitivity to different stimuli, such as light, sound, temperature shifts, and food
Fibromyalgia pain patterns vary with the seasons. Summer brings an increase of tender point pain – patients often say this occurs in artificially cold air-conditioned spaces. Winter brings “fibro-flares”—i.e., overall fatigue with flu-like aches and mild depression.
Weather conditions can also change Fibromyalgia pain. For instance, Fibromyalgia sufferers may experience tightness and pain in the upper neck and head prior to a storm.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
The root cause of Fibromyalgia is unknown. Just a few years ago, the scientific community believed Fibromyalgia was an autoimmune disorder. Today, many researchers believe it is a central nervous system disorder, in which pain signals are artificially amplified. Some say stress contributes to the onset of Fibromyalgia; childhood trauma and illness are hypothesized to be contributors. Genes are also likely to determine whether a person has the potential to develop Fibromyalgia; it tends to run in families.
The most current thinking is that if you are genetically disposed toward Fibromyalgia, personal trauma can trigger its onset. It may be that trauma triggers the emotional processing limbic system to go berserk, causing hypersensitivity in the central nervous system.
How Massage Therapy Can Help with Fibromyalgia
A multi-pronged approach tends to be most effective. Massage is an excellent element in managing Fibromyalgia pain. FMS clients report the following outcomes following massage:
–A decrease in weather-related and seasonal symptoms
–Feeling lighter, with less pain overall
–Managing pain with monthly massage sessions
–Connecting with self in a positive way.
Let’s review the research, as recently outlined in an AMTA article.
Research on Fibromyalgia and Massage
A 2011 study of 59 participants applied massage-myofascial release therapy to 30 patients while 29 control participants received disconnected (sham) magnetotherapy. (The control group was not informed that the treatment was a sham.) After 20 weeks of weekly 90- minute massage sessions, the massage-myofascial release group showed a significant decrease in pain, trait anxiety, and physical function. Their sleep latency and duration also increased. These effects were not found in the control group. One month following the experiment, the massage group still showed decreased pain and trait anxiety; six months post-experiment, the massage participants still showed an improvement in sleep duration and decreased tender point pain.”
A 2014 meta-analysis of nine controlled, randomized trials and 404 Fibromyalgia patients found that massage therapy lasting at least five weeks improved pain, anxiety, and depression.
While more research with larger sample sizes is needed to confirm these initial findings, it appears that massage can help manage Fibromyalgia syndromes. Here are a few tips for working with FMS patients:
Tips for Massage Therapists working with Fibromyalgia Patients
• Apply your expertise around trauma. Remember, these patients tend to have trauma in their background.
• Conduct a thorough intake; Fibromyalgia patients often take prescriptions that may affect your treatment.
• Focus on self-care. Provide massage for better sleep and stress reduction, with information post-session on how to improve sleep and decrease stress independently between sessions.
Massage careers are made through specialization. Some therapists prefer to hone in on one focus, while others built expertise in multiple syndromes, such as FMS. In our massage certificate program we include a massage business class to help students succeed in their new profession. Students also set five-year goals to give them direction in the real world. This is one of many aspects of the East West College curriculum that prepares our graduates to be sought after by employers. We are one of only five massage schools on the West Coast to achieve prestigious COMTA accreditation, and our graduates have a 96% pass rate on the national licensing exam, compared with a 69% national average. To learn more about our school and our classes, contact us today
Massage + Fibromyalgia: The Right Touch, AMTAMassage.org