It has been called an “invisible disease” because it cannot be diagnosed through blood tests or x-rays, and for years, some doctors have dismissed it as a psychosomatic disorder that exists solely in the minds of the (primarily female) patients who suffer from it. But for the nearly six million Americans who live with the often debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia, the pain is no illusion. Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a musculoskeletal condition characterized by chronic muscle pain, stiffness, fatigue, depression, and frustrating cognitive difficulties referred to collectively as “fibro fog.” Studies indicate that up to 75 percent of fibromyalgia patients turn to massage therapy as a means of coping with their symptoms, and scientific research explains the relief that massage brings them.
By manipulating the muscles and tissues, massage improves circulation. When performed regularly, massage delivers fresh oxygen to the tissues, which can help to reduce pain and stiffness and improve flexibility. Massage also increases levels of serotonin while decreasing production of stress hormones, which can help to relieve depression and improve sleep quality. One study published in the European Journal of Pain found that regular massage performed over a ten week period reduced pain by up to 37 percent, allowing patients to reduce their reliance on pain medications. In addition, patients experienced lower levels of depression and an overall increase in quality of life. Another study published in the April 2002 edition of the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology found that fibromyalgia patients who received massage therapy reported better sleep quality and duration than those patients who did not receive it.
In order to reap the many health benefits of massage, it is particularly important for those living with fibromyalgia to communicate openly with their massage therapists regarding their condition, including the locations and severity of pain, because more vigorous forms of massage may actually exacerbate pain for some patients. Swedish massage is one of the most highly recommended methods because it is gentle enough so as not to worsen symptoms, but effective enough to alleviate the muscle aches that plague fibromyalgia patients. Experts also stress the importance of committing to a regular massage program in order to experience long-term relief. By seeking regular massages at the hands of therapists who understand the unique needs that fibromyalgia presents, patients may be rewarded with alleviation of symptoms and an improved sense of wellbeing.
This blog originally appeared on spafinder.com.