Going for a massage may have been a luxury in the past, but this is changing. As the benefits of massage for fibromyalgia pain become increasingly clear, it is becoming widely recommended for patients. Read on to learn more about the benefits of massage for fibromyalgia, its history, and how you can get safe and effective massages for yourself.
Benefits of massage for fibromyalgia patients
People living with fibromyalgia can also find significant relief with massage therapy. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain and persistent fatigue. Joint stiffness and sleep disturbances are also common with fibromyalgia. All these symptoms can be reduced significantly through regular massage.
In fact, studies have shown that individuals with fibromyalgia can experience lots of benefits from massage therapy, including:
- Increased serotonin levels
- Decreased stress hormones
- Decreased substance P levels
- Improved sleep
- Decreased pain at tender points
- Improved overall sense of well-being
The importance of touch (and massage) in human relationships cannot be overestimated. When we are infants, our first positive sensation after the shock of birth is the touch of loving hands. As children, we run to our loved ones for reassurance and care, or just for a goodnight cuddle. Too often as we get older, we lose the understanding of why touch matters every day. For pain patients, touch may even turn into something negative, with every fiber of the body screaming in pain at the slightest contact.
But here’s the thing: massage for fibromyalgia can help pain patients learn how to relax into positive, healing touch again.
History of massage for fibromyalgia relief
Massage may be one of the earliest forms of pain management. Chinese medical literature mentions the use of massage as long as 4,000 years ago, and it continues to be an important feature of traditional Chinese medicine. Additional ancient references to massage therapy occur in literature from Babylonia, India, Greece, and Rome.
One of the most well-known contemporary types, Swedish massage, was introduced to the United States in the 1850s. Many doctors in the United States were using massage techniques by the end of the 1900s, but the following rise in technology and prescriptions overshadowed this therapy. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when alternative therapies became popular again, that massage came to the public’s attention once more.
Now, there are dozens of different types of massage practiced. 125,000 therapists are practicing in the United States, and more than 80 million massage therapy appointments take place in this country each year.
Types of massage
Four of the most popular types of massage are Swedish, deep tissue, shiatsu, and hot stone.
Swedish massage is a combination of five different types of strokes. This type of massage is meant to encourage both relaxation and blood flow to the heart. It’s also good for loosening joints and reducing soreness.
Deep tissue is focused manipulation of deeper tissues and muscles. It’s designed to address severe soreness or tension in the muscles and tissues, but it can sometimes result in lingering soreness.
Shiatsu is a Japanese style of therapy that’s very popular in the United States. This style of massage is characterized by pressure on specific bodily points, utilizing continuous rhythmic motions.
A hot stone massage, as its name suggests, involves the use of hot stones. These stones provide soothing heat to help relax muscles and ease pain. The therapist will usually combine the use of hot stones with other hands-on techniques.
Other pain conditions treated by massage
Pain patients may avoid massage for fear that it will exacerbate pain, but the opposite is often true. When pain patients have a flare-up, muscles become tight and knotted. Eventually the muscles begin to cling to each other, hardening and stiffening into a permanently tensed state. This limits mobility all over the body and makes movement painful.
Massage does several different things to benefit the body. It:
- Relaxes muscles
- Stimulates weak muscles
- Improves range of motion
- Increases endorphins
- Reduce heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase blood circulation and lymph flow
Because of the many ways in which this therapy can help the body, it can benefit almost anyone, but massage can be particularly beneficial to individuals with a pain condition. The increased circulation, muscle relaxation, and improved range of motion can all provide fibromyalgia relief. But it can also help with many comorbid conditions that occur with fibromyalgia, like headaches and back pain.
Endorphins are one of the body’s natural pain killers, so the increased endorphins from massage therapy can also help manage these pain conditions. The benefits of massage can effectively reduce discomfort from generalized lower back pain, jaw pain from temporomandibular disorder (TMD), joint pain from osteoarthritis, or almost any other pain condition.
Before your first massage for fibromyalgia
Individuals with fibromyalgia should do a little preliminary research before scheduling their first appointment. Online databases, such as the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB), can help you find a local massage therapist. Also, nationwide locations are becoming increasingly popular; some even allow subscriptions that are good at any location, so you can get your scheduled treatment even while traveling. Physicians and medical professionals at your pain clinic will also be able to provide recommendations.
It’s important to make sure that a massage therapist is the right fit for you. For instance, if you have fibromyalgia, call ahead and ask if the therapist is experienced at treating people to provide fibromyalgia relief. Check online reviews and websites. Massage Envy Spa, for instance, has a page entirely about massage for fibromyalgia relief, so there’s a good chance that any of their locations will have someone familiar with the condition.
Ideally, try to find someone who has lots of experience at treating people with your pain condition. This way, he or she will know which massage technique (or combination of techniques) will be most beneficial. He or she will also be able to suggest a routine that’s worked well for other people with the same condition, such as one hour every other week or two hours per month.
There are also many types of massage, some of which benefit pain patients more than others. When you are meeting with your therapist for the first time, talk to your therapist specifically about which types she or he recommends.
What to expect during your session
When you meet a therapist for the first time, he or she should sit and talk with you for a while. Painful areas, sensitivities, concerns, medical conditions, and anything else you think relevant should all be discussed. If you have fibromyalgia, make sure the therapist is aware and knows to stop immediately if you ask him or her to.
Also, while massage can certainly yield lots of benefits, it’s possible that the actual massage might hurt at times. Discuss this with your pain doctor and with your therapist beforehand, so you know if or when to stop the massage. It may take a few sessions to notice any significant benefits. In fact, some sources suggest that about 10% of people with fibromyalgia experience aggravated symptoms after their first few massages.
And, after a massage for fibromyalgia, you may expect to feel floaty and relaxed, but that may not always be the case. Working muscles deeply can release toxins and free radicals being stored there, and this can make you feel a little “off.” In addition, some soreness may be present directly after massage. Taking a hot bath with Epsom salts can help to relieve this soreness and relax you into sleep.
How to get more massage into your life
For many, the price of massage for fibromyalgia may be daunting, but there are ways around spending exorbitant, spa-level money. There are a few different ways to get more into your life. Here are some important things to remember and some affordable options for regular massage.
1. Practice self-massage
While this is not quite the same thing as a full-body massage from a trained therapist, regular self-massage can help release the muscles holding the most tension, usually those around the neck and shoulders.
2. Ask your partner
Asking a partner for massage is a free way to get the full-body treatment. This is also a great way to get comfortable with asking for what you want and knowing what hurts and what helps. It may not be as deep or as therapeutic as a trained therapist, but partner massage for fibromyalgia can not only get you started but also help to deepen your bond with your partner.
3. Use apps
Downloading apps, especially when asking your partner for massage, can help enhance the at-home experience. Massage Techniques, available for $2.99 for iOS and Android phones, offers instruction in 130 different massage techniques, including 13 full massages. There is even an anatomy section to help you and your partner better understand the muscles of the body. This can be an invaluable tool in self-massage as well.
4. Look for Thai massage
Thai massage is a great alternative for those looking not only for affordability but also for modesty. The recipient remains fully clothed during each session, and the therapist pulls, stretches, and compresses muscles rather than kneading. This type of massage is often available through yoga studios and may be combined with partner or restorative yoga.
5. Visit massage schools
Massage schools are an excellent alternative to a more expensive spa experience. Students are fully supervised by their professors, and students often provide cheap or free massages as part of their practicum requirements. You can usually request a student who is focusing on massage for pain patients. They may even travel to your home! To find a participating school, locate a massage school in your area and give them a call or visit their website.
6. Share the expense
Maybe you need a regular massage but just can’t take time off work. Using the apps Soothe and Zeal, a screened, licensed therapist will come to you at your work (or home) at your convenience. While this option is not free, it can make massage more affordable and convenient, which may help to make it a more regular part of a comprehensive pain treatment plan.
7. Participate in a rewards program
Many therapists and studios participate in rewards programs like Perkville, which awards points for each visit. Accumulated points can be redeemed for money off massages or even free treatments. They are free and usually only require a simple sign up.
Whether you’re just getting started with massage for fibromyalgia, or have been finding relief with it for years, it provides an excellent non-invasive pain management option for many patients. If you need more help with fibromyalgia, however, consider reaching out to a pain doctor. They can provide complementary therapies to be used along with treatments like massage to help you find the most relief.