For people with fibromyalgia, massage therapy may help soothe symptoms to some degree. Marked by chronic pain and fatigue, fibromyalgia typically causes tenderness throughout the body (especially in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs) and can also trigger sleep troubles, headaches, memory problems, and irritable bowel syndrome. Although massage therapy isn't proven to provide long-term relief of fibromyalgia symptoms, early research shows that receiving massages may help fight pain and enhance well-being in fibromyalgia patients.
Benefits of Massage for Fibromyalgia Patients
While massage has yet to be extensively tested for its effects on fibromyalgia, the existing studies show "modest support" for its use in treating the condition, according to a 2010 research review. The review's authors analyzed eight previously published studies, finding that each demonstrated short-term benefits for massage. The authors note that fibromyalgia patients may need to receive massage therapy at least once or twice weekly in order to experience significant benefit. However, they also caution that all of the reviewed studies had methodological problems.
Findings from other small studies indicate that massage therapy may help improve sleep and ease depression, in addition to reducing fibromyalgia pain. In a 2002 study of 24 fibromyalgia patients, for example, researchers found that those who received 30-minute massage treatments twice weekly for five weeks had an increase in the number of hours they slept (as well as a decrease in pain).
The study also suggests that massage therapy may help reduce levels of substance P (a brain chemical involved in inducing pain and inflammation). A 1999 study of 48 fibromyalgia patients, meanwhile, shows that massage therapy may help relieve pain, lessen use of pain medication, and reduce depression.
Should You Use Massage for Fibromyalgia?
For most patients, fibromyalgia treatment tends to require a range of therapeutic approaches. For instance, your healthcare providers may recommend using a combination of medication (such as pain relievers and/or antidepressants), lifestyle changes (such as improving your sleep quality and exercising regularly), and physical therapy. If you're interested in using massage to manage your symptoms, talk to your doctor about how to incorporate massage therapy into your fibromyalgia treatment program.
Brattberg G. "Connective tissue massage in the treatment of fibromyalgia." Eur J Pain. 1999 3(3):235-244.
Field T, Diego M, Cullen C, Hernandez-Reif M, Sunshine W, Douglas S. "Fibromyalgia pain and substance P decrease and sleep improves after massage therapy." J Clin Rheumatol. 2002 8(2):72-6.
Kalichman L. "Massage therapy for fibromyalgia symptoms." Rheumatol Int. 2010 30(9):1151-7.
National Institutes of Health. "Fibromyalgia". July 2009.