I have recently been treating more and more clients for the management of their fibromyalgia (FM) symptoms. Because of this, I thought this month’s newsletter would be a great opportunity to shed some light on this not so well known condition. It was not until the late 80’s and early 90’s that FM became accepted as a legitimate condition within the medical community.
What is Fibromyalgia?
FM is defined as a painful non-articular rheumatic condition for a duration of at least 3 months. It is characterized by a widespread muscle achiness and more specifically tender points. Eleven out of eighteen symmetrical tender points must be palpated at specific areas of the body as a part of a FM diagnosis. These tender points are what help distinguish FM from other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus. FM is more commonly found among women than men.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
The cause of FM is not certain, however there have been connections with immune abnormalities and genetic predisposition, or a deficiency in serotonin.
How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
An examination is conducted by a medical doctor and often includes a combination of the following:
1) Having a history of generalized symmetrical pain for at least 3 months.
2) Palpating at least 11 of 18 identified tender points.
3) Blood tests and x-rays- this is done to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms such as arthritis.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Most Common Symptoms
1) Generalized pain, which occurs in 100% of individuals with FM
2) Stiffness that is often worse in the morning and evening, this occurs in 80% of individuals with FM.
3) Moderate to severe fatigue, which may cause the individual to feel weak.
4) Poor sleep, which can aggravate symptoms of pain. This occurs in 80% of those with FM.
1) Problems with memory and concentration
2) Intolerance to cold
4) Altered sensation (numbness, tingling)
How is Fibromyalgia Treated?
There is no cure for FM. Often this condition is treated with a combination of physical therapy, lifestyle management, and medication. Antidepressants have been found to be most effective to help improve sleep, and decrease pain (Arthritis Society, 1998). In addition, exercise is also found to be beneficial, but should be introduced slowly. Lastly, lifestyle management requires individuals with FM to be in tune with their body by becoming aware of pain and fatigue levels and adjust activities accordingly. Also alternative therapies such as massage therapy and acupuncture can help manage the symptoms of FM.
Massage & Fibromyalgia
Massage therapy treatments can be very helpful in the management of FM symptoms.
“A study on 30 persons with fibromyalgia compared the effects of massage therapy and tens machines. The group receiving massage therapy had more improvement in tender point pain, reported less anxiety, depression, stiffness and fatigue and had fewer nights of interrupted sleep.” (Sunshine et. Al,1995).
Massage therapy can help to improve sleep patterns and can provide a general feeling of relaxation, which helps decrease symptoms of pain.
What to Expect from Your
Massage Therapy Treatment for Fibromyalgia
Initially, the Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) will likely recommend 30min treatments. This is to avoid exhausting and overworking the body as well as to see how your body will respond to the treatments. If no adverse effects are felt from the shorter treatments, the length of the treatment may be extended to up to an hour in length. Regularity of treatments is important to receive lasting benefits. Treatments once a week is ideal to manage symptoms of FM.
The RMT will use a lighter pressure for the first couple of treatments, especially if you have not had a massage therapy treatment since your diagnosis of FM. Again, this is to determine how your body will respond to manual therapy. In my experience no two clients are a like, especially with FM. While many individuals with FM are very sensitive to even the lightest touch, due to the widespread achiness, others can tolerate a deeper pressure. A word of caution to those who can tolerate and/or request a deeper pressure, even though deep pressure may feel good on painful tender points at the time, pain and achiness may be experienced even more so post treatment. When receiving massage therapy for FM, it is important for the individual to note the treatments will provide more of a diminishment of pain, rather than an end to the pain.