Managing Fibromyalgia Pain with Massage

By Liz

      Managing Fibromyalgia Pain with Massage 

Dealing with chronic muscle aches and pains for fibromyalgia sufferers is a constant battle. Although fibromyalgia is not life-threatening, it can be extremely distressing for sufferers. Fortunately, massage therapy is a renowned treatment modality for the relief of fibromyalgia symptoms. Pain is relieved at the time of treatment, as well as providing longer term benefits such as improved relaxation and ability to sleep.

Fibromyalgia is not a disease but is referred to as a condition, syndrome or disorder associated with widespread chronic pain (that can be described as aching, burning, stabbing or throbbing); fatigue; and cognitive disturbances such as memory problems, mood swings and emotional distress. Fortunately, the condition does not cause any permanent muscle or joint damage. However the pain felt is real, and the cognitive symptoms are distressing. Approximately 2 to 5% of the population suffer from fibromyalgia. Both men and women are affected by the condition, though it tends to be more prevalent in women and tends to develop in middle adulthood.


Benefits of massage therapy for fibromyalgia

Increasing circulation – Fibromyalgia sufferers, massage is often very gentle, as the condition’s distinguishing factor is sensitivity to touch,  rules out deep tissue work. Instead, techniques are used to encourage circulation in the muscles that helped deliver vital nutrients to the cells as well as clear the tissues of any waste products. Increasing oxygen to the muscle tissues is a key component for treating fibromyalgia. The oxygen assists greatly with reducing stiffness and pain. In fact, many massage therapists report that fibromyalgia sufferers’ muscles may feel cold to the touch, due to the lack of circulation.

Relaxation and pain relief – Massage is also wonderful for fibromyalgia sufferers as it deeply relaxes the body, slowing heart rate, increases the range of movement in joints and encourages endorphin release (the natural painkillers in the body).

Rest and sleep – Regular massage treatments help bring the body back in balance, further relaxing the body and encouraging a good night’s sleep. Many fibromyalgia sufferers claim that they wake up tired, even after plenty of sleep.  This is because people with fibromyalgia suffer from a lack of deep sleep, which is vital for repairing and restoring the body. By rebalancing and relaxing the body, pain responses are lessened – allowing the individual to get a deeper and more restful sleep.


Releasing chronic muscle tension & headaches

Many sufferers of fibromyalgia condition claim that they simply cannot relax their muscles and they feel that their muscles feel like they are in a permanently contracted state. Massage therapy can help, break this cycle by relaxing and lengthening the muscles, allowing the body to remember what the relaxed state feels like. Chronic pain and tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck are a common symptom for fibromyalgia sufferers. Therefore, this tension can lead to chronic tension headaches. Many suffers have claimed that after regular massage treatments, headaches become less frequent, with fewer medications required. Lower back pain is another symptom for many sufferers, and pain levels in the back can also decrease after regular massage treatments.


Anxiety & depression

Regular, soothing massage therapy treatments reportedly give positive results for fibromyalgia sufferers who have anxiety and depression, mainly due to the relaxing effects and release of endorphins.


Massage type recommended for fibromyalgia

Massage techniques for a person with fibromyalgia are very light. Once comfortable with this technique, additional techniques can be added to the treatment such as reflexology, trigger point massage, myofascial release. Whichever way, communication is crucial between when assessing fibromyalgia sufferers as pain and sensitivity are key issues. The positive news is that once patients are accustomed to the treatment, the tense and painful muscles will relax, allowing the recipient to enjoy deeper and more regular massage therapy treatment.


A quick summary of treatment options for fibromyalgia

While this article focuses on the benefits of massage for fibromyalgia, it’s imperative for both massage therapists and sufferers of this condition to educate themselves about the symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. Instead, it is recommended that someone who may be suffering from fibromyalgia, is diagnosed correctly and then given a management program tailored to her or his needs.

Management of fibromyalgia consists of a combination of the following:

  • Education: sufferers need to understand as much as possible about the condition in order to help manage their condition
  • Exercise: mild exercise to encourage circulation, gentle aerobic activity or water-based exercises help with general conditioning, stamina, sleep and pain reduction.
  • Massage: for pain management, stress reduction and improved quality of sleep.
  • Nutrition: for overall health, increased energy levels and maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Stress management and relaxation: stress can aggravate pain levels, harshly worsening the condition.
  • Balancing rest and activity: therefore avoiding fatigue by breaking up activities is important to prevent ‘flareups’.
  • Medication: used either intermittently or consistently for pain reduction or to help with sleep.                                                                                                                                       


Kalichman L. (2010). Massage therapy for fibromyalgia symptoms. Rheumatol Int. Jul;30(9):1151-7.

Article by Vicki Tuchtan – Sage Insitute 2015


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