Fibromyalgia, Can Massage Help?
by Lorie Pearsall, LMT
I have been using massage therapy along with movement therapies for treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms since the 1990’s. It has worked very well for me and I have had good results treating other clients. Fibro has a wide range of symptoms. Some of the symptoms are overall muscle pain and fatigue, tender points, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, Reynaud’s phenomenon, bruxism, and even tachycardia. You may wonder how there can be such a wide range of symptoms related to one syndrome. Of the several books and articles relating to fibromyalgia, the best article I’ve read so far was in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2004 issue (pg83-93). It was written by Ross Turchaninov, MD and Boris Prilutsky, MA.
Turchaninov and Prilutsky discussed how the connective tissue, (fascia) which determines the extent of muscle stretch and contraction as well as provide the pathway for nerves and blood vessels becomes tense, and caused compression of those muscles, nerves and vessels. The condition of constant muscle tension creates a strain on muscles and tendons, which in turn leads to inflammation. The inflammatory response prompts calcium deposits in the muscle and tendon attachments. The chronic inflammation causes secondary changes in neurotransmitter levels and activities of the central nervous system. They further discuss the relation ATP plays. The muscles use ATP as an energy source for the myosin heads to slide and the muscle to contract. ATP is also used for the molecules to detach the myosin heads from actin and relax again. In Fibromyalgia the ATP is used up for the contraction and unavailable for the relaxation of the muscle. The muscle remains contracted and does not totally relax as it should. This tension is relayed to the connective fascia. Because the fascia also contains the pathway for nerves and blood vessels, this now affects microcirculation. That in turn now affects the local pH, which activates pain receptors. The level of substance P increases, (a neurotransmitter responsible for pain receptors in the spinal cord), and serotonin decreases. The serotonin is a neurotransmitter that mediates basic bodily functions including smooth muscle contraction. Turchaninov and Prilutsky go on about more of the chemical reactions triggered and back these ideas up with clinical findings. The fascia interconnects all of our muscles and organs, thus fibromyalgia has multiple symptoms that can seem unrelated.
Some people who have fibromyalgia are able to adapt enough to perform everyday duties and you would not know there was anything wrong unless you spend a lot of time with them. There are others with fibromyalgia that are almost bed ridden. Sometimes it can feel like every fiber in your body is revolting.
How to treat fibro with massage is the only thing that I disagree with Turchaninove and Prilutsky about. The article they wrote has a specific stroke and order of stroke to treat every client the same. In my experience each client must be assessed and treated as an individual. Some clients find relief with some trigger point therapy, for others it would be too much. Some can only handle a very light massage, others respond to a deeper treatment. The same client may be able to handle some variables of pressure or treatment one time and not another.
Because massage can relax muscles and increase circulation, it can definitely help relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Fibro clients usually have fitful sleep patterns due to the pain of movement and increased sensitivity to pressure. A massage session can invoke a deep relaxation. It can be a restful experience that helps the body to rejuvenate. As I stated in the beginning of this article I have used massage along with gentle movement and ROM to address fibro symptoms for several years. Without massage as a part of my lifestyle, I do not feel that I would be able to lead the active life I have.
Lorie Pearsall is a licensed massage therapist. She owns and operates Trinity Wellness Center in Morrisville, NY.
Lorie Pearsall, LMT