Imagine living with unexplained pain of your muscles and joints. Now take away your ability to concentrate, multi-task and ability to recall memories. Introduce disturbed sleep or insomnia. Now imagine living with hypersensitivity to hot and cold, inability to regulate your own body temperature, balance disturbances and digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome. You may just be starting to appreciate the quality of life of someone who lives with Fibromyalgia Syndrome.
If you are living with fibromyalgia then the thought of massage probably sends your overactive, on high alert, pain receptors into over drive. There are alternatives to traditional massage. One of those is Myofascial Release Therapy which a gentle approach to bodywork. This therapy helps to release pain causing restrictions in the fascia and also to turn down the volume on an overactive central nervous system. The result is less pain, better sleep and improved quality of life.
WHAT CAUSES FIBROMYALGIA?
Fibro is a bit of a medical mystery and is not understood well. Trauma of the spine is thought to be a trigger. Common to everyone I treat who lies with Fibro can point to a traumatic event be it spinal surgery, whiplash or spinal injury.
The symptoms of Fibro is an overreaction of the nervous system and interpretation of signals by the brain. Your body is amplifying signals many times “louder” than a healthy body – even slight inputs can have massive responses.
Between 2 and 10% of the population live with Fibro and it affects more women than men (9:1). There also seems to be a link with other conditions such as temporomandibular joint dysfunction, polycystic ovaries syndrome and endometriosis – which suggests a strong hormonal influence. People with chronic fatigue syndrome also often live with fibromyalgia.
People who live with fibromyalgia often experience flare-ups where their symptoms are extraordinarily worse than what is “normal” for them.
MASSAGE AND FIBROMYALGIA?
The thought of getting massage whilst hypersensitive to pain stimuli probably sounds like the worst idea ever. One of my clients described to me why she no longer sought massage after her remedial therapist set into her with elbows. It frustrates me when I hear these stories because as therapists we should be listening to your cues and also listening to your body.
Studies do show that massage is effective in assisting to reduce many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Particularly when that therapeutic touch concentrates on releasing restrictions in the fascia.
If you want to read more about the effectiveness of myofascial release on fibromyalgia then here is one example of validated scientific research.
Benefits of Massage-Myofascial Release Therapy on Pain, Anxiety, Quality of Sleep, Depression, and Quality of Life in Patients with Fibromyalgia
The authors suggest fibromyalgia often leaves patients feeling incapable of performing basic daily life activities, even resulting in painful symptoms and conditions such as, “myofascial trigger points, degenerative joint disease, inflammatory joint disease, bursitis, tendonitis, development alterations, hypermobility syndrome, neuropathic pain, injuries, traumas, repeated muscle pulls, visceral pain, disc herniation, spinal stenosis and recurrent cephalalgia (headaches).”
WHY MYOFASCIAL RELEASE AND NOT OTHER FORMS OF MASSAGE?
When my clients with fibromyalgia talk to me they usually talk about a constant ache that doesn’t go away. This pain is present in the muscle, joints and bones. It is symptomatic of fascial pain. Traditional approaches to massage use long gliding strokes, firm pressure, trigger points and friction. These techniques are usually relaxing, except to someone whose nervous system is on high alert.
People who live with fibromyalgia often have adhesions in their fascia. Fascia is a continuous three dimensional connective tissue. It surrounds every muscle and organ. There is a liquid component to fascia that can solidify and become tacky inhibiting movement and resulting in pain. Fascia has more pain receptors in it than muscle. It also has an important communication function throughout the body. Fascia can contract slowly and constrict causing a distinctive ache through the body. It is implicated in trigger points as well as chronic pain patterns.
Massage typically focuses on tension, imbalance and health of muscles. While it can affect fascia amongst other structures – it is a broad spectrum approach. If your body is amplifying signals then traditional massage could be intolerable to you.
Fascia tightens slowly and releases slowly. Your therapist feels for tension patterns in the fascia and then uses gently releases them using sustained holds and stretches. Myofascial Release Therapy uses gentle stretching of tissue, engaging with fascia using forces of around 200 grams, gentle traction and stretching. It also uses still holds to encourage the central nervous system to quieten down and to promote relaxation. It is in the ultra-relaxed state that I see profound changes. Even though the techniques are gently they are still powerfully effective.
WHAT BENEFITS ARE YOU LIKELY TO GET FROM MYOFASCIAL RELEASE THERAPY?
It is important to remember that presently there are no cures for fibromyalgia. Any therapy that you are offered will assist in you feeling more comfortable.
My clients who have fibromyalgia have responded positively to myofascial release therapy, better than traditional massage, and they report:
- longer sleep and better quality of sleep
- reduction of pain and aching
- improved movement
- reduction in frequency and severity of headaches
- improved mood and mental health
- improved hormone balance
The medical community understand fibromyalgia to be a condition of the central nervous system. Any therapy that assists the nervous system to chill out will be beneficial to reducing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Myofascial release therapy has a direct impact on the central nervous system assisting to reduce the “volume” of pain signals of your body.
HOW LONG SHOULD MY TREATMENT BE?
This is a personal question depending on the resilience of your constitution. I would recommend starting with a 30 minute treatment and to work up from there depending on your energy levels. Keep in mind that any bodywork is taxing on your energy levels.
Your therapist will understand if you are experiencing a flare up and amend or delay your treatment accordingly.