The month of May is fibromyalgia awareness month. While fibromyalgia is becoming a more familiar term there is still very little known about it. So first, what is fibromyalgia? Well let’s break the name down. “Fibro” Latin for fibrous tissue, “myo” Greek for muscle, and “algia” Greek for pain. Literally translates to fibrous tissue muscle pain, which basically describes the condition in a nutshell. The medical definition says fibromyalgia is a neurosensory disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue. The condition is chronic (meaning long term), but the pain comes and goes and moves about the body. The disorder is often misdiagnosed or unrecognized and is often complicated by mood and anxiety disorders.
Some interesting facts about fibromyalgia:
- Affects 3-5% of the general population
- Occurs in people of all ages, even children
- Men develop fibromyalgia too, although women are more frequently diagnosed
- Symptoms are chronic but may fluctuate throughout the day
- Roughly one quarter of people diagnosed are work disabled
- Only three drugs for fibromyalgia are FDA approved
- Fibromyalgia is considered an arthritis related condition but is not a true form of arthritis. It is also considered a rheumatic condition, which would be a medical condition that impairs the joints and/or soft tissues and causes chronic pain.
Some of the common symptoms associated with fibromyalgia is pain all over, fatigue, sleep difficulties, brain fog, morning stiffness, muscle cramps, knots and weakness, digestive disorders and itchy burning skin. While these are only a few to start with there is one particular trait consistent with fibromyalgia patients, they are called the 9 paired “tender” points. Since routine lab tests can’t determine fibromyalgia, these 18 tender points are used to help diagnose people. Tender points are pain points or localized areas of tenderness around joints themselves and hurt when pressed with a finger. These tender points are scattered over the neck, back, chest, elbows, hips, buttocks, and knees presenting in symmetry between both sides of the body. The points themselves are superficial and not deep, which is why fibromyalgia patients usually can’t stand deep pressure or even being touched sometimes.
Now, how can massage help? Several case studies have been done showing the benefits massage can have in many different complications associated with fibromyalgia. The New Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine as well as the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology have both shown amazing results in improving sleep, decreasing pain, improving joint mobility, and decreasing depression! Throughout these studies massage has been shown to increases delta waves in the brain. Why delta waves are good for the body in general is a whole new blog of its own but to keep things on point, delta waves are linked to the deepest level of sleep. Not to mention there is talk that delta waves may have a hand in boosting the immune system.
Massage has also been found to increase serotonin levels, oxytocin levels as well as dopamine levels. Each of these neurotransmitters deserve separate acknowledgment but they basically all aid in elevating mood and overall happiness. In conjunction to increasing these lovely “feel good” neurotransmitters, massage helps decrease cortisol levels. Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that plays several important roles. It has been considered to be bad due to it increasing during stress and its negative effect on the body when it is elevated for long periods of time. Patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia tend to have higher cortisol levels for long periods of time because of how the condition is presented.
Last but not least by far, massage increases endorphins. Endorphins can be increased through a few things such as running (runner’s high), laughing, and even eating dark chocolate! Endorphins act somewhat similar to morphine, in the sense it acts as an analgesic and a sedative, helping diminish our perception of pain. This happens by the neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind with certain pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence. Although what a healthy addiction massage could be!
While the cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, there are many ways to help with the complications that come along with this condition. Massage is certainly not the only option, but it can be an effective one!