For most people, a massage is a luxury. Many people can't afford the cost of a regular massage, and health insurance companies generally don't cover massages. But for some people, massage is therapy. Massage is the manual manipulation of soft body tissues. Rubbing, kneading, rolling, and pressing the tissue increases blood flow and warmth, relieves muscle tension, and promotes relaxation. Try giving yourself a massage, or have your partner do it for you. Gently massaging your own muscles can help relieve tension, especially in your face and head. But done too rigorously or for too long or short of a time, massage may cause pain. The key is to be gentle. If you're too aggressive, you can cause a flare.
In people who have fibromyalgia, massage can help alleviate pain, stiffness, and tight muscles. And by improving blood flow, the body can better deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to affected tissues, while flushing out toxins that might perpetuate your pain. Different types of massage can produce somewhat different results. The following sections describe just a few examples of the kinds you might consider.
A Swedish massage focuses on the soft tissues near the surface of your skin and doesn't involve heavy pressure needed to reach the soft tissue deeper in your body.
During a Swedish massage, the therapist uses a smooth, flowing style with long strokes and kneading movements that promotes relaxation, improves circulation, and relieves muscular tension. In fibro patients, a Swedish massage can be relaxing, but its benefits are generally short-lived.
Deep Tissue Massage
When muscles are tense and inflexible, some people may opt for a deep tissue massage. Deep tissue massages are more vigorous and are designed to loosen hardened or inflexible muscles and nearby tissues. The strokes are typically slow and methodic, and they may either go with or against the grain of the muscles.
Some say that deep tissue massage improves some symptoms of fibromyalgia, but only temporarily. In many people, deep tissue massage is too aggressive, leaving them sore and miserable.
Try heat and cold for achy muscles. Heat from a shower or bath can relax the muscles, decrease pain, and improve flexibility. Cold in the form of ice packs can ease pain if you suffer from nerve entrapment. But avoid heat and cold if you are sensitive to temperature extremes.
Myofascial release targets the fascia, or the soft thin tissue that covers every organ of our body. The technique is done to relieve tightness and restricted movement in the body's fibrous or connective tissue. This is especially beneficial for fibromyalgia sufferers since this disorder involves the fibrous tissue. The long stretching strokes of myofascial release can actually lengthen connective tissue and reduce its pull on the skeletal system, providing much-needed relief.
The Right Massage
The massage you choose will depend on several factors, including individual preference and pain tolerance. Whatever you decide, find a practitioner who knows about fibromyalgia and who is nationally certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, or one who has graduated from a training program certified by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation.
On your first visit, let your massage therapist know you have fibromyalgia and work with her to find a pressure that is relaxing. If it hurts, let her know. Too much pressure causes muscles to tense. Although massage is almost always safe, do steer clear if you have inflammation, swelling, open sores, or circulation problems.