Massage Facts and Fibromyalgia

Credit: Ryan Weisgerber (Creative Commons)

Credit: Ryan Weisgerber (Creative Commons)

Fibromyalgia is one of the most misunderstood diseases by the public and I feel that anything I write about it needs to respect those suffering from it with real-world facts, citations, and detailed explanations.  This disease hits home on both professional and personal levels and it's become part of Oswego Massage Therapy's mission statement to aid in relief from it's symptoms.

Massage Therapy Can Help.  FACT.

 I make every effort to keep my posts science-based and factual; sticking to the hands-on aspects of my work and leaving the more holistic, energy-based aspects to others who are better suited to that than I.  That said, this article offers a wealth of information that makes an extremely strong case for massage therapy serving not just as a form of "alternative treatment", but as a highly effective strategy on the front line in the fight against Fibromyalgia.

What Fibromyalgia Is:

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.
— http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/basics/definition/con-20019243

The Mayo Clinic goes on to state that Fibromyalgia has no cure but that medications, exercise, relaxation, and stress-reduction are the key methods used to manage the condition.

CREDIT VAXZINE / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

CREDIT VAXZINE / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

What It Does To You:

1.  Widespread Pain.  You just hurt "everywhere", with a dull-ache dominating a majority of your body.
2.  Headaches.  Most people describe them as "massive" headaches that tend to be powerful enough to disrupt nearly every aspect of one's day, often even making it difficult to go to work.
3.  Fibro-Fog.  "Cognitive Difficulties" are also recognized as an affect of Fibromyalgia, often making it difficult to focus and concentrate on even the most basic tasks.
4.  Depression.  In my opinion, the worst symptom on the list because once the depression takes hold in a sufferer, the hope and the willingness to take steps to fight the disease diminish, leaving a person accepting a life of pain that is devoid of the ability to simply "enjoy life".
5. Chronic Fatigue.  You wake up tired.  You spend a great deal of your days struggling to put one foot in front of the other.  The sleep you do get is usually poor in quality and often interrupted.

Why Massage?  (From the Experts)

Daniel Clauw, M.D., professor of anesthesiology, University of Michigan is on record as stating that opioids and narcotics are ineffective in the treatment of Fibromyalgia but goes on to state:

The majority of patients with fibromyalgia can see improvement in their symptoms and lead normal lives with the right medications and extensive use of non-drug therapies.
— http://www.news-medical.net/news/20150518/Fibromyalgia-now-considered-as-a-lifelong-central-nervous-system-disorder.aspx

When I read "Non-Drug Therapies", massage therapy is the first thing that comes to my mind in terms of examples.  In an online article about Fibromyalgia posted by Everyday Health,  Rhonda Crockett, licensed massage therapist at the Ohio State University Center for Integrative Medicine in Columbus, states the following: “Massage therapy is the most widely used type of complementary and alternative medicine in hospitals because it reduces stress, helps relieve pain, decreases feelings of anxiety, and increases general overall well-being — all of which are great for people with fibromyalgia”.

Treatment Massage Helps

Credit: Flickr user Jlhopgood (Creative Commons)

Credit: Flickr user Jlhopgood (Creative Commons)

While we're all anxiously waiting for medical research to come up with a treatment that would just make Fibromyalgia "go away", we have to focus on the tools we have available now and understand how they help.

In all the research I did for this post, the issue that kept coming up for me is the "triggering" of the flares that make Fibromyalgia so difficult.  Over and over, Stress & Anxiety keep getting cited by the most respected medical communities in the world as major triggers with depression rapidly following as a result.  Here is my list of what massage can do to reduce those triggers:

1.  Relaxing Atmosphere.  In nearly every massage facility you will visit, you can expect to find an atmosphere created by the therapist to be warm, calming, and relaxing in it's very nature.  The time you spend simply being in a treatment room is worlds away from your stressful office,  excited children, or hectic schedule.  The session alone is a scheduled reprieve from the busy life that robs us of a healthy perspective on stress management.

2.  Circulatory Benefits.  Invariably, when stress and anxiety increase, the body's circulatory system shows immediate changes as a result.  Likewise, therapeutic techniques designed to increase and enhance circulation are going to provide the body a chance to improve the circulation.  It's not 100% factual to state that "increased circulation reduces stress", to be clear.  What is does mean is that massage therapy will directly confront the symptom of negatively-impacted blood circulation as it relates to being stress-induced.

3.  Relaxing Muscles (I.E. Reducing Tension).  Fibromyalgia is all about pain; ask anyone suffering from it.  Pain causes muscles to contract.  Massage is among the most direct methods available to relax a muscle that's stuck in a contracted state.  While there isn't hard science out there that massage directly reduces the pain of Fibromyalgia, there is no argument that it reduces the tension.

4.  Being Understood.  One of the worst parts of Fibromyalgia is being so misunderstood in social circles.  People suffering from this are constantly being told "It's all in your head".  That ignorant notion seems to be our society's go-to response for everything we don't fully understand scientifically.  I would argue that there is no more well-equipped profession that takes a hands-on approach to wellness than Massage Therapy in terms of simply approaching it's clients from an understanding perspective.  We get you.  We are NOT counselors and we must never be expected to serve as such, but we do work in a field that has struggled for ages to be accepted in some medical circles.  If anything, we know what it's like to be misunderstood and we as massage therapists are accustomed to approaching wellness (and disorders) with a very open mind.

In summary, the way massage therapy manages to help Fibromyalgia isn't by directly affecting the illness.  It's by "indirectly" affecting it.  The innate (and medically accepted) benefits of massage address Fibromyalgia's many major symptoms.  While we all await a cure for Fibromyalgia, it's nice to know that there are solid methods out there to reduce the symptoms and possibly slow down the frequency of the things that trigger it's flares. 

If you are concerned that you may have Fibromyalgia, please consult your physician.  If you have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, be sure to check out the National Fibromyalgia Association and the American Chronic Pain Association to learn more about how to manage and treat your condition.