Article written by Carol Gutierrez
When you hurt all over…how does massage help with fibromyalgia symptoms?
When you hurt all over, you are exhausted, and can’t think straight, it is hard to make decisions on what modality to try next to be more proactive in managing your health! Rest assured research shows massage provides short-term benefits in persons with Fibromyalgia. Good news!!!
How do I know if I have fibromyalgia?
You may have occasional aches in pains in various parts of your body, but it may not be Fibromyalgia. The new 2010 American College of Rheumatology criteria include expanded the criteria for the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia (FM). In the 2010 criteria, wide-spread chronic (more than 6 months) pain is only one of the criteria. Other symptoms may include fatigue, waking un-refreshed, cognitive symptoms, and body symptoms. Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, restless leg syndrome, migraines, and interstitial cystitis can be associated diseases.
According to The American College of Rheumatology, “muscle weakness, headache, pain/cramps in the abdomen, numbness/tingling, dizziness, insomnia, depression, constipation, pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, nervousness, chest pain, blurred vision, fever, diarrhea, dry mouth, itching, wheezing, Raynaud's phenomenon, hives/welts, ringing in ears, vomiting, heartburn, oral ulcers, loss of/change in taste, seizures, dry eyes, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, rash, sun sensitivity, hearing difficulties, easy bruising, hair loss, frequent urination, painful urination, and bladder spasms” may also be present. A person may have 1-2 symptoms while others can have many.
More than 5 million Americans suffer from this constellation of symptoms, with women being more affected (or perhaps more frequently diagnosed) than men. Possible causes for fibromyalgia may include trauma, recent illness, history of sexual abuse, or a family history of chronic wide-spread pain. One study looked as Vitamin D deficiency as a possible cause.
From a naturopathic perspective, the mind-body-emotion-spirit aspects of FM require a multi-modal approach. In addition to pain and fatigue, persons with FM can have allergies, chemical sensitivities, Candida, PMS, thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, depression, sleep and digestive issues. An article on the Vancouver Naturopathic Clinic’s website listed chemical and heavy metal stress as a significant factor in FM. Stress is a common denominator. This could be emotional stress, chemical stress, energetic stress, or spiritual stress. When creating a plan of care, including a holistic approach to healing is most effective and more satisfying for both the health care practitioner and the person with FM.
What can I do?
There are several interventions which may be helpful to alleviate the symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been found to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of depression that are often associated with FM. Medications for the pain are managed with Lyrica and Cymbalta have been approved by the FDA for treatment of FM. Narcotics have not been helpful, and may contribute to the symptom profile. Yoga, acupuncture, and chiropractic have been helpful for some.
The foundations to any healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress management, and adequate rest) are key elements in the management of FM. Stress, insomnia, immobility can exacerbate the symptoms, and overtax the body systems.
Be cautious not to over do it when you are feeling good and have energy. Your first instinct is to get as much done as possible. It is wiser to pace activities, so as not to wind up in bed the next day!!
Pain is the main concern for seeking massage for persons with FM. Persons with FM vary in their preference for pressure during massage; some can tolerate only very light and general massage while others request deep tissue massage. It is important to advise the massage therapist about your preferences. This time is all about you and your heath and well-being!
If you prefer light touch, lymphatic massage is a recommendation. The lymph system keeps the body’s defense system in working order, removing toxins from the body and minimizing swelling and congestion. Myofascial massage is gentle and very effective in releasing tissue restrictions that are common with FM. Energy modalities such as Reiki, Healing Touch and Polarity can be perform with hands lightly touching the body or above the body. Craniosacral therapy is also very relaxing, and can be added into a massage or as a stand-alone modality. Reflexology has been shown to be helpful in minimizing the pain of FM. Reflexology can be performed on the face, ears, hands and feet. For those who are very touch sensitive on the torso, reflexology can be a good option! A session blending a combination of these modalities is also possible. This can be a delightful buffet of positive touch!
The Southwest Institute of Healing Arts offers a specialty class on Fibromyalgia Massage. Student and Licensed massage therapists trained in this specialized approach to massage and fibromyalgia are available at the SWIHA Massage Clinic.
Research shows 90% of persons with fibromyalgia have used at least one form of integrative treatment to manage their symptoms.
Massage is an opportunity to take control of your health and happiness.
If you prefer firmer pressure, therapeutic massage and deep tissue massage may be more to your liking. Adding hot stones may be relaxing for some. The studies showed moderate pressure massage was most helpful, provided short term benefits, and is most effective when massages were provided one to two times a week. Sounds lovely!!!
Each person is different in how they respond to massage. Depending on your current condition (the state or ability or disability) start with an hour-long massage. If you have not experienced massage before, be in communication with the massage therapist during the session to determine what depth of pressure works best for you. A change in the pressure may be needed in different body areas, based on touch sensitivity. Take note of how you feel in the following few days, as the effects of the massage can linger for up to three days. Depending on the response, it may be preferable to do shorter, more frequent sessions.
The positive effects of massage can assist with pain management, improved mood, better sleep, immune support, and more harmonious relationships. A win-win situation!
One directory resource you might consider to find a practitioner near you is www.GreatGraduates.com, featuring the graduates of Southwest Institute of Healing Arts.
Southwest Institute of Healing Arts offers specialty class on Fibromyalgia Massage. Student and Licensed massage therapists trained in this specialized approach to massage and fibromyalgia are available at the SWIHA Massage Clinic.