By Jessica Martin
National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day is May 12 each year—and a good reminder for massage therapists to consider how healthy touch can help the 5 million Americans estimated, by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMSD), to live with the pain and tenderness of fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the body, with tenderness in joints, as well as in muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. Although there is no cure for this painful syndrome, pain can be managed—and massage for fibromyalgia patients is one way to practice pain management.
This condition still remains a mystery to allopathic caregivers.
Fibromyalgia is seen in approximately 5 million Americans, according to the NIAMSD, and affects females more than males by a 9:1 ratio. Primary age range to acquire this condition is between 20 and 50 years old.
The Fibromyalgia Patient
Particular characteristics and certain demographics of fibromyalgia sufferers were studied recently, within the context of a national health survey. Results from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) conducted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, released in late 2015, indicated that:
- People with fibromyalgia had high levels of pain, non-pain symptoms, and psychological distress.
- Their fibromyalgia-like symptoms were severe and continuous.
- About 27 percent were diagnosed with fibromyalgia by a physician.
- About 73 percent who were not diagnosed with fibromyalgia were told they had rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or low-back pain.
- They were more likely to have co-occurring major medical conditions, such as heart attack; hypertension; diabetes; depression or other mental illnesses; rheumatoid arthritis; or lupus.
- They had relatively high levels of medical costs, Social Security disability and work disability.
- Certain demographic factors and health behaviors were more highly associated with the presence of fibromyalgia, including: being female; residing in the Midwest; possessing an educational level lower than college; being divorced or separated; obesity; smoking; and being a U.S. citizen rather than a noncitizen. Fibromyalgia occurred about equally across all racial and ethnic groups, but was less common in Asians.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain, which can range from mild to severe. Pain may be characterized as shooting, burning or a deep, unrelenting ache. Soft tissue around joints may develop tender points. Pain can improve during the daytime and worsen at night, although for some people the pain remains all day.
If one has had three months or more of widespread pain, with more than 10 tender-point areas, there is a good chance that she will be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Today, a newer method of diagnosing this condition is being adopted by physicians. This includes a 19-item checklist in which a patient indicates which body parts have felt painful in the prior week. Patterns are witnessed over time as the patient completes this checklist weekly.
Almost all fibromyalgia patients suffer from hallmark symptoms: unrefreshing sleep, fatigue and cognitive issues. Other common symptoms include headaches, anxiety and depression. Although symptoms can improve, fibromyalgia is a long-term disorder with pain and symptoms continuing years.
Massage for Fibromyalgia
There are many benefits of massage for fibromyalgia patients, and various types of massage, including myofascial release, Swedish and shiatsu have been indicated by research studies to help this clientele. Here are five of the benefits of massage for fibromyalgia patients:
- The first will be relaxation to improve sleep. Sessions in the evening will benefit the patient to allow better quality of sleep at night, thereby helping the body repair and rejuvenate at night more effectively.
- The second benefit is improved muscle tonicity. This benefit will aid lethargic muscles and help restore strength and vitality to your client’s body. Be sure to include more petrissage strokes to accomplish this goal.
- A third benefit will be to improve mental clarity. A relaxing session can raise healthy awareness and relieve mental stress. This can improve the client’s cognitive issues.
- Headache relief is the fourth benefit a fibromyalgia patient may receive. Improving blood flow to the brain can relieve the physical source of headache, while the relief received can further keep the person’s mind in a healthier space.
- A fifth benefit is diminishing the effects of any anxiety or depression. These effects include hormonal fluctuations, interference with appetite and chronic fight-or-flight mode. Massage can restore homeostasis of the body, thereby diminishing these effects.
The Role of Empathy
A final consideration is to remain compassionate and supportive in the fibromyalgia patient’s treatment-plan efforts. A client who presents with fibromyalgia has likely grown accustomed to family, friends and practitioners not taking her condition seriously.
A massage therapist who treats this client with empathy and respect, holding her feelings in high regard and without judgment, will make the greatest impact and produce the most favorable treatment results.