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Massage and Fibromyalgia

By Michelle Harkey

T“I love getting a massage, but usually it hurts for days after because I have fibromyalgia. Please be careful.” These were the words of the very first lady suffering from fibro I ever (knowingly) met.

People with fibromyalgia don’t always show on the outside the intense pain they’re experiencing on the inside. Widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, fatigue and memory issues are the defining characteristics of fibro. It is estimated that 90% of people with fibromyalgia try at least one form of complementary and alternative treatment such as acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal supplements and massage therapy.

But does it work?

Yan-hui Li and her team did a review of the data and recently published an article reporting the results of their findings regarding massage therapy and fibromyalgia. They selected nine randomized controlled trials involving 404 subjects which met their criteria. All of the studies included a measurement of pain and involved people who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia according to the criteria of the American College of Rheumatology.

They found that YES, there was significant reduction in pain for studies with a duration of at least five weeks. There was also a marked decrease in anxiety and depression.

In the ten years since I gave a massage to the first lady who told me she had fibro, I’ve come to the same conclusion as Yan-hui Li: massage is effective when it is consistent, compassionate and, particularly, if I use a protocol I’ve designed for chronic pain.

That first fibro client was pivotal in my understanding of massage and fibro. Hers was a case of dramatic success which led me to the basics of my chronic pain protocol. I’m very grateful she gave me the opportunity to work with her so many years ago.


Source: Yan-hui Li et al., “Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials,” as reported in Massage & Bodywork, March/April 2015.



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