Hands-On Therapies

Massage: A Touch of Relief for People with Fibromyalgia




Has fibromyalgia robbed you of your energy and vitality?  Do achy muscles cramp your style?  Would you like to have less stress in your life? If your answer to any or all of these questions is a resounding, "YES!" do not despair. Following are tips to help you find relief with therapeutic massage. 


More women have FM than men. They typically suffer from depression, mood swings, sleep disturbances, muscle aches, mental fog, and fatigue. They may also live with migraines, bruxism (teeth grinding), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and temperomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. Worst of all, for many years, people with the constant flu-like symptoms of FM were told it was "all in their heads." But the syndrome is not simply a psychosomatic illness.


Stress is a major factor in FM.


After I explain how stress aggravates FM, you will learn how therapeutic massage can relieve pain and give back energy, vitality, and the ability to participate more fully in everyday life activities.


Stress the unseen thief:

Experts believe that stress accounts for 80-90% of all illness. Even when it is not the direct cause, it aggravates health challenges, making it harder to live a "normal" life. Stress creates a constant drain on the body’s resources.


The body under stress is in a state of "fight or flight." In other words, the system reacts as if there were imminent, mortal danger. Your body is preparing you to fight off the attack or run for your life. Breathing is shallow, the heart is working overtime, the body releases cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones), and the repair and restore functions of the body are put on hold. Clear thinking and decision-making are impaired.


The body’s alarm system is extremely useful for truly life-threatening danger. If you are crossing a street and a car careens towards you, this protective mechanism is your friend. The fight or flight mechanism is designed for such short bursts of high stress, not ongoing, low-level stress.


What happens in life for most people is low-level stress with only the occasional danger. Spending a lot of time in stress overload wears the body’s defenses down, increasing fatigue, lowering immunity, and feeding into a stress/pain/disease cycle.


Massage breaks the pain-stress loop:

Massage puts the body into a "rest and digest" response that allows it to repair and renew itself, digest food, and absorb much-needed nutrients. Breathing becomes deep. Heart rate slows. Pain decreases. Anxiety loses its hold. 


Massage therapists (also called "bodyworkers") apply a wide variety of techniques to the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. They use rocking, rubbing, kneading, percussion, deep pressure, energy or "chi" moving techniques, and stretching, among others.


Some people believe that massage is simply pampering, but there are numerous reasons why having routine massage is a good idea. Fibromyalgia and many other chronic conditions, such as arthritis, high blood pressure and fatigue, respond well to massage. 


Health benefits of massage include:

· strengthening the lymph system, which helps the body fend off invaders

· reducing pain from injury, overuse or surgery

· enabling restorative sleep

· relieving muscle cramps, spasms and tension

· increasing circulation and bringing nutrient-rich oxygen to the organs and tissues

· releasing the body’s natural painkillers, called "endorphins"

· improving range of motion of joints

· providing stretch and exercise for weak or withered muscles

· lowering blood pressure

· and many more

Contra-indications for massage:

Some conditions are "red flags" that prohibit massage, including phlebitis, some cancer, infectious disease, and some skin and certain cardiac conditions. Your therapist should take a health history, but consult your physician if you have any concerns.


Massage and Fibromyalgia

People with FM who receive massage experience additional health benefits. They typically find that they sleep better after a session because they relax and have less pain. They often lose the mental fuzziness called "fibro fog," at least for a while. Some have consulted with their doctors and reduced pain medication. 


My client, Ms. G of Colorado, said, "Not only is the pain less, but you feel like you have some normalcy."Receiving regular massage means being able to move more freely and accomplish everyday tasks more easily.I often tell my clients, "Don’t wait until you feel like a train wreck before you come in for a massage." I, like many therapists, offer a discount for those who come regularly. Not only does it make the work more effective for the client, but also the session is easier on both of us.


Another client, Mrs. B of Missouri, commented, "I knew in the first session that I had found the person who could help me really get out of pain, not just feel better for a few hours."


One massage brings temporary relief, but under the right hands, consistent massage can break the pain-stress cycle and bring longer-lasting relief. Mrs. B. advises others, "Trust your gut. It may be painful sometimes, but you’ll know if it’s good pain."


The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine learned the following in a scientific study: "Those who got 30 minutes of massage two times a week for five weeks had less anxiety and depression and lower levels of stress hormones." Other benefits supported in the study included a decrease of pain, stiffness, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.


Touch is intimate

Touch is highly personal. You know your body better than anyone else does. You should feel comfortable with your practitioner. Don’t be shy about asking questions before you pay for a session. (See list of suggested questions below.) Especially if you have many complications, you will want to be certain your therapist is knowledgeable about your condition. Make sure the work is not too deep or too shallow. Working on tense muscles can be painful, but should not be excruciating. Your therapist is not a mind reader, so it is up to you to tell her or him to lighten up or increase pressure.


If anything that is said or done makes you feel this isn’t the right massage therapist, find someone else. Most will be glad to talk with you and help you decide if their work is right for you. Many offer special enticements, such as free samples and consistency discounts. (Remember, though, gratuities are appreciated if the work has helped you.)


Questions to ask when looking for a massage therapist:

How long have you been a massage therapist?

What are your rates?

Do you offer any specials?

What health challenges do you specialize in?

What techniques do you use?

What do you love about your work?

Does the facility meet my accessibility needs?


Finding a Massage Therapist

Start by asking friends, relatives, or people at your support group, health club, service organization, or church about their therapists. You can also contact one of the following organizations for a referral to a qualified massage therapist in your area: 

Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals at (800) 458-2267 or online at http://www.abmp.com/ 

National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork at (800) 296-0664 or http://www.nctmb.com/

Massage information:  http://www.massagetherapy.com/


Ronda Del Boccio is a Nationally Certified Therapist of Massage and Bodywork, and a holistic health facilitator.  She taught stress management and holistic health at a state college for seven years. She has been certified in massage for eight years, and currently has a private practice near Branson, Missouri. She specializes in working with people who suffer from stress, repetitive use injuries, and chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia. Find her on the web at http://www.relaxwithronda.com/You can send questions torondahealer@peoplepc.com

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