What Is Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage?

 

When and Where Was Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage Developed?

Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage is a new modality of massage.  Although persons suffering from the condition have been acutely aware that Fibromyalgia is real, the medical community has been slow to acknowledge its existence and develop treatment guidelines.  Initially, Fibromyalgia was believed to be “all in the head,” meaning that it had no physical basis.  The normal medical protocol was to refer people to psychologists and psychiatrists.

In 1981, the first scientific study on the condition was published, confirming the existence of tender points on the body.  Nearly a decade later in 1990, the American College of Rheumatology began creating guidelines to help diagnose the condition.  It took another 15 years before the American Pain Society published actual treatment guidelines in 2005.  Two years later, the FDA began approving medications to treat the condition.

A great deal has been learned by the medical community about Fibromyalgia to date, but the treatments nearly always involve placing the patient on a combination of medications which usually include antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, pain killers, and muscle relaxers.   On top of those medications, Fibro patients are prescribed even more drugs to treat the symptoms such as nausea and fluid retention caused by the drugs used to treat Fibro.  It is not uncommon for Fibromyalgia sufferers to be taking anywhere between 5-13 drugs concurrently.

While doctors and pharmaceutical companies have been developing drugs to treat Fibromyalgia patients who are seen perhaps 15 minutes at a time using very little touch, massage therapists have been on the front lines treating Fibro sufferers using touch in hour-long sessions.  As the condition became better known, therapists who were finding techniques that were tolerable and effective began sharing information.  It is through this collaborative effort that a diverse set of protocols were developed.

The challenge to therapists has been that Fibromyalgia sufferers often do not want to be touched because they are in such great pain that even light touch is intolerable.  To further complicate matters, some Fibro folks cannot stand light touch, but find that firm or deep and steady pressure is acceptable.  To this end, massage therapists have come up with a broad spectrum of techniques drawn from every possible massage modality (method) to treat clients with Fibromyalgia.

As more becomes known about this syndrome, it becomes clearer why these particular massage techniques have been effective and why each person may require a different method.  Let’s take a minute to examine what Fibromyalgia is and its suspected causes before looking at the specific massage techniques used to treat it.

 

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome, not a disease.  A syndrome is a collection of symptoms.  A disease is a physical condition caused by a pathogen (bacteria, virus, etc.).  This distinction is important because diseases have a very specific cause.  A syndrome may have one or more causes, and that can differ from one person to the next.

The word “Fibromyalgia” means a condition of pain in the muscles and connective tissues.  Fibromyalgia was so-named because most every person with the condition has a number of points on the body that are extremely tender when only light pressure is applied – much like when a recent bruise is lightly touched.  These “tender points” appear to be perfectly healthy tissue, but the sensitivity is persistent and does not seem to improve.  That is not the entire picture, however.

Fibromyalgia Syndrome is complex and usually involves:

  • Widespread Pain
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Headaches and Facial Pain, including TMJ
  • Heightened Sensitivity (“Irritable Everything Syndrome”)

In addition to the above symptoms, sufferers frequently report the following problems:

  • Depression
  • Numbness or Tingling Sensations in the Hands and Feet (paresthesia)
  • Difficulty Concentrating (“Brain Fog”)
  • Mood Changes
  • Chest Pain
  • Dry Eyes, Skin, and Mouth
  • Painful Menstrual Periods
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Sensitivity to Hot and Cold

Potential Causes of Fibromyalgia

The matter of what causes Fibromyalgia is still being researched.  While there is not yet a formal declaration of “THE” cause, practitioners in all fields are arriving at similar conclusions.

It is currently believed that people with Fibromyalgia experience persistent pain because their nervous systems have been altered in a way that has made them hyper-sensitized to stimuli.  To state it another way, it means that they have had some source of irritation or aggravation to the nervous system that has caused it to become overly sensitive.  It is like if you have stubbed your toe and it swells up, the normal sensation of walking that you usually do not notice becomes too painful to bear.  For people with fibromyalgia, this happens over the whole body so that simple things like the sensation of clothing on the skin, a fan blowing on them, or a hug can be unbearable.

Neurologically speaking, scientists have found that people with Fibromyalgia have increased levels of pain transmission chemicals in the brain.  This means that what someone who does not have Fibromyalgia would rate as a 2 on a scale of 1-10 for pain, a person with Fibromyalgia will describe as a 10+.  More likely than not, they will tell you it is a “100” on a scale of 1-10.

So what causes the nervous systems of Fibromyalgia sufferers to become so sensitive?  The short answer:  it could be a bunch of stuff or maybe just one thing.  Each person has a unique story, but there are several factors that have been identified as potential Fibromyalgia triggering events:

  • Injuries (usually trauma – like a car wreck – that has caused injury to the upper spinal region)
  • Sleep disturbances (This is also considered a symptom, but may be a cause of the condition.  It is a chicken or the egg scenario.)
  • Infections
  • Allergies (Although it could be any allergy, food allergies often go undetected)
  • Emotional Pain – prolonged grief, anger, fear, insecurity, guilt, self-punishment
  • Surgery
  • Childbirth – complicated labor and delivery
  • Changes in Muscle Metabolism (deconditioning of muscles are thought to reduce blood flow and delivery of hormones that regulate nerve activity)
  • Abnormalities in the Autonomic Nervous System (This is what controls things like heartbeat, breathing, sweating, intestinal movement, etc.)  It is thought that these abnormalities often show up at night and cause stiffness, dizziness, and fatigue the next day.

Pressure and Technique in Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage

Pressure in Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage is generally very light to medium.  Each person will have a pressure range that is comfortable and it may vary from one part of the body to the next.

Communication is always important during a massage, but it is even more important for Fibro folks to communicate with their massage therapist when something is uncomfortable.  Massage should never be painful, so never think that you have to bear it to get results.  If you are in pain, you are tensing your muscles and it will have a counteractive effect.  The objective of the massage is to get fluids in your body moving and tense muscles make this more challenging.

The techniques involved in Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage range from exceedingly light lymphatic massage to gentle vibration/percussive techniques, to gentle compression, to Swedish, to acupressure, to TMJ treatment.  Patients who are completely intolerant to touch might even receive forms of energetic massage such as Reiki, Meridian Therapy, and similar modalities if they are open to it.

What a Fibromyalgia client finds beneficial and/or tolerable may change over time as symptoms improve.

 

Why Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage Works

The best way to summarize how Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage works is to say that it generates movement in the recipient.

When we are in pain, we tend to limit our movement.  This happens in very obvious ways such as when we stop exercising, stop doing yard work, let household chores go because we don’t feel well enough to do them, stop socializing because it is too taxing on our system, etc.  Our movement is also limited in ways that are less obvious – at the cellular, muscular, lymphatic, and energetic levels.

Fibromyalgia is usually accompanied by extreme fatigue and withdrawal, which when combined with pain, further restrict movement.  Lack of movement affects us in a number of ways.  There is the physiological restriction which causes stagnation in our bodies.  Much like a stagnant pond, a body that doesn’t move gets “icky.”  Wastes cannot be carried away from the muscles, and trigger points (knots and sore spots) begin to form.  These cause more pain which further restricts our movement.

Emotionally, a lack of movement causes us to hold emotion inside.  We are no longer able to literally shake off that which is bothering us.  This is not metaphorical speech.  Think about if you see something that really gives you the heebie-jeebies.  What do you do?  You shudder and dissipate that unpleasant emotion.  This is likewise seen when you workout and feel better emotionally.  You have physically released stress you are holding in your body.  When you are no longer free to move, you literally cannot shake off bad feelings, and they further contribute to internal pain.

The techniques used in Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage seek to restore movement to the body because movement is life.  All living things move when they are healthy.  As living beings age, movement becomes restricted and disease sets in.  Restoring movement restores health.

Movement of the lymphatic system and blood clear out toxins and bring fresh fluid containing nutrients to deprived cells.  Work done on the energy centers and meridians seek to restore the flow of energy, or chi.  Even if you may not find that energy or meridian work fits into your belief system or understanding of how the body works, you may opt to try it as part of your treatment.  Fibromyalgia patients often have very strong positive responses to these therapies when used in conjunction with traditional Western massage.

 

What Conditions Can be Treated with Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage?

Fibromyalgia is clearly the primary condition treated with Fibromyalgia Therapy Massage; however, it is appropriate for others.  Geriatric clients, clients with injuries or limited mobility due to a disability, persons with other forms of chronic pain, and pregnant women may all benefit from this form of massage.