Increasingly, fibromyalgia is making the news and within my own practice, fibro is a pretty common occurrence among my clients. No two clients have the same pain patterns, need the same kind of massage and from visit to visit, what a client needs can, and often does, shift dramatically. To take the best care of my clients, education about chronic pain has become paramount and right at the top of the list is fibromyalgia. So, what is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is an arthritis related condition, with the most common symptom being widespread musculoskeletal pain, affecting both women and men with the current number standing between 6 and 12 million sufferers. Women are ten times more likely than men to have fibromyalgia, especially in the 25-60 year old age range. (1.) While it is related to arthritis, there is no joint deterioration or inflammation brought about by the fibromyalgia itself. A definite cause is not currently known for this chronic pain condition. The possible causes, though not exhaustive, include trauma, repetitive stress injuries, lupus, central nervous system issues, or gene pain regulation. (2.)
Anyone that has fibromyalgia will attest to the negative impact that it has in their lives and that management is often very difficult. Unfortunately, with no known cause and such a wide variety of symptoms, learning the best ways to manage fibro is the only recourse that you have. With any kind of chronic pain, alternative medicine provides an array of pain reducing possibilities. Results will vary per person so the goal is to try as many as you can or are comfortable with, keep what works and add it to your tool box of pain management techniques.
A 1996 study published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology (3.) found that people receiving ten 30 massage sessions reported a 38% decrease in pain, anxiety, and depression; better energy levels and improved sleep quality. The results of this study are extremely impressive and the reasons for these results are due to the muscle relaxation, decrease of joint pain, flooding of tissues with oxygen, increased circulation and finally, the overall state of relaxation that massage induces.
As with any treatment, patience is key. In an age of instant gratification, remaining with a treatment long enough to see marked improvement can be a trial. One thing that can definitely help is to keep a pain journal. This can be any kind of notebook that you like or an online pain tracker but the end goal here is to monitor your pain levels day by day. Chronic pain is by nature demoralizing and it can feel as though your treatments aren't getting you anywhere unless you have something tangible to measure it against. A pain journal will provide you with a clear picture of what is working for you and what is not.
For further information, I absolutely recommend checking out this article by the ACPA. They are a reliable source for additional study as well as offering tools for tracking pain, lifestyle checklists, etc. There is definitely hope for getting fibromyalgia under control and massage can help get you there. Find a therapist that you click with, one who listens and please don't give up on your goal of managing your pain. It can be exhausting and, as one client once stated to me, "damned unfair". You won't get an argument from me but I will tell you that there is hope for keeping the pain levels under control and there are people out there willing to help you do it. That is where your power is.
(As always, this article does not diagnose and if you feel you need a diagnosis, go visit with your doctor. Massage should be additional care to whatever medical care you are already engaged in with your physician. If in doubt if massage is right for you, ask your doctor.)
Sunshine, W., Field, T., Schanberg, S., Quintino, O., Kilmer, T., Fierro, K., Burman, I., Hashimoto, M., McBride, C., & Henteleff, T. (1996). Massage therapy and transcutaneous electrical stimulation effects on fibromyalgia. Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, 2, 18-22.