Fibromyalgia can be a debilitating condition from which the sufferer can struggle to find respite. This piece by an anonymous sufferer in the Guardian highlights the reality of a life living with this condition. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/09/experience-i-am-in-constant-pain I meet people with this condition and hear and see how much more research is needed to find the answers to this chronic condition. I really want to acknowledge the pain that sufferers experience both from their condition but also from society who doesn’t understand and respect that this is a condition you cannot see – the person living with this, may not ‘look ill’. It manifests in such an individual way, it’s patterning as unique to the sufferer as their finger print.
As a massage therapist, working with fibromyalgia, I have learnt to respect the ebbs and flows that my clients with this condition have to live with. One week, it might be possible to give a gentle full body massage, easing congestion and build up in the joints and helping the body to release serotonin and create endorphins by settling the nervous system through long massage strokes. The action of massage delivers fresh oxygen to the tissues, which can help to reduce pain and stiffness and improve flexibility. Endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, as it works to reduce the bodies stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Serotonin is an essential hormone to combat depression. However on another week when the condition ‘flares’ and other symptoms of fibromyalgia of tenderness to touch and depression, arise, the treatment my need to be a shorter session, utilising a series of holds and support that pay attention to the pain and how the client is feeling. The one thing I have come to realise is that this is a condition which continually moves.
Exercise, both aerobic and strength conditioning – a graded exercise plan?
Knowing how difficult it can be for a client to maintain a consistent exercise programme due to pain. I often work with a plan prescribed by a GP. I absolutely acknowledge that exercise can help but on those days and weeks when it really isn’t possible, I work to support the client by offering gentle movement provided by me to help the joints to move. When clients are well enough to exercise, I have seen clients really benefit from a combined programme of regular massage and swimming – the cumulative effect of the two regularly combined helped with overall management but also with increased body awareness. Spotting the onset of a ‘flare’ seems to happen earlier when the client has higher body awareness.
Massage can help sleep
A 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. If sleep is accessible, then the body can get some respite from the pain and some healing can occur. It is useful to book a massage session in the evening (I am available until 9pm) so that you can go straight home and to bed after the treatment.
Pain management and learning to cope with stress
Massage therapy can help those with fibromyalgia because it can help reduce stress, improve sleep patterns. By manipulating the muscles and tissues, massage improves circulation which in turn eases muscle spasms and tension.
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.
Type and duration of massage for fibromyalgia
I recommend that a new client begins treatment with half hour sessions which will involve a level of therapeutic massage that is aimed at the client firstly getting used to my touch – for a fibromyalgia client, this alone can be a big step as touch can be unbearable. I recognise that when a client has been in long term pain, the bodies are highly sensitised and for a therapeutic relationship to develop, care around how they start to be able to receive touch is key.
It may be that in the beginning, simple hands on the body, fully clothed, using gentle holds and talking about the symptoms is enough. The massage process I use is highly individual and I create a treatment specific to each client. It may be that the client is able to rest on the massage couch and allow gentle swedish massage, which incorporates long soothing strokes with some pressure around agreed areas. We work it out together. This method of working it out together helps the therapy to become an active process, very important for the self management of the condition.
I have seen the impact massage therapy has on my fibromyalgia clients. They often enter the session feeling stiffness and discomfort, and leave feeling lighter and in less pain. I have also seen first hand the mood-elevating effect massage therapy has on a person who is feeling down.
Self management – important note:
I see therapeutic massage as a tool that can help people take ownership of their fibromyalgia in a positive, healing way. Regular sessions can help people reconnect with themselves, and facilitate a deep state of relaxation through which they can release some of their pain. During massage the breathing slows down, as does the heart rate. This leads to a state of deep relaxation, kind of a pre-sleep state. Once you have received several sessions, your body can become more conditioned to reproduce this state of deep relaxation.
As a massage therapist I offer targeted therapy services for fibromyalgia patients, either at one of my clinics in Oxfordshire or London or in your home. Home-based massage for fibromyalgia sufferers can be hugely beneficial since the painful symptoms often make it difficult for those with the condition to get around outside their own homes. Home based visits are available within a 10 mile radius of my home clinic in Deddington and incur a £10 surcharge to allow for travel time.