How Massage Therapy Can Treat Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia—a musculoskeletal condition that affects 1-3% of the world population—distorts how the brain processes pain signals, causing widespread physical pain and tenderness. Medical researchers have shown massage therapy relieves pain in those who experience fibromyalgia and can help alleviate other symptoms of the condition.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia causes chronic pain throughout the body. People with the condition typically experience an increased sensitivity to pain, feel fatigued, and have difficulty sleeping. They may have trouble focusing, experience stiffness, and endure frequent tension headaches. Some people experience depression, headaches, spastic colon, and abdominal pain or cramping.

More than 7 million Americans have fibromyalgia, which typically affects more women than men. People with severe fibromyalgia may remain bedridden for days at a time from severe fatigue and other symptoms. Due to the lack of effective medical interventions for fibromyalgia, many people turn to complementary treatments such as massage therapy for healing and relief.

Massage therapy often outperforms the other chronic pain treatments people with fibromyalgia may try. For example, a research team from the University of Miami and the Duke University School of Medicine found study participants who received massage treatments fared better than those who had transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and a control group who received a placebo TENS treatment. To treat chronic pain, physicians commonly apply electrical TENS pads to a patient’s skin to stimulate nerve centers. The researchers observed reductions in pain, fatigue, stiffness, and insomnia in the study participants who received massage therapy treatments.

Do I Have Fibromyalgia?

If you feel widespread pain (such as a dull ache) that persists for more than three months, talk with your doctor to see if your symptoms point to fibromyalgia. Be open to other diagnoses, as people can easily confuse fibromyalgia with other types of chronic pain, such as myofascial pain syndrome.

Though medical scientists have not yet found the cause of fibromyalgia, your physician can give you a specific diagnosis for the condition. Fibromyalgia usually affects 18 specific body areas, and people who have the condition typically only experience pain in these particular “tender points,” which are widespread throughout both sides of the body.

People with fibromyalgia also have unique sleep difficulties. Though they may frequently wake up due to their pain, they can sleep for long periods of time due to intense fatigue. They often still feel fatigued upon waking as well as throughout the day.

Massage therapy has the potential to ease many fibromyalgia symptoms, including sleep difficulties. A recent examined 74 people with fibromyalgia. The study participants who received massage therapy instead of a placebo had less anxiety, slept better, experienced greater pain relief, and reported a better quality of life. Participants continued to experience the benefits of massage therapy for as long as a month after treatment and reported better sleep quality as many as six months later.

Why Is Fibromyalgia Hard to Treat?

Doctors have yet to determine an exact cause of fibromyalgia, making it a difficult condition to diagnose and treat. They can test for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other causes of chronic pain, but there is no specific test for fibromyalgia. A blood test can identify blood cell markers in people with fibromyalgia, but the test by itself may not lead to a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Experts believe some events (such as stressors, traumas, hormone changes, or certain chemicals) can trigger the abnormal amounts and behaviors of certain neurotransmitters associated with fibromyalgia. For example, people with fibromyalgia often experience reduced serotonin levels (and likely clinical depression).

Physicians believe fibromyalgia starts in the brain and then manifests in the body as a low-grade inflammation of fascia, other connective tissues, and muscle fibers. Fascia and related tissues surround muscles and run throughout the body. They determine how much muscles can contract and stretch and provide space for nerves and blood vessels. People with fibromyalgia often experience extreme muscular tension, which can compress muscles, restrict blood flow, and block nervous system pathways.

Can Massage Therapy Treat Fibromyalgia?

Massage therapy holds many benefits for people with fibromyalgia. In a 2015 review of 10 research studies on massage therapy and fibromyalgia, a research team found massage helped people reduce pain, anxiety, and depression related to the condition. People who received massages experienced high levels of pain relief and moderate amounts of emotional healing, which endured well beyond the end of the treatment period.

The researchers examined various types of massage therapy for fibromyalgia and found myofascial release improved stiffness, fatigue, and quality of life. For these symptoms, manual lymphatic drainage techniques and shiatsu massage produced more results than connective tissue massage and Swedish massage.

Another researcher noted the short- and long-term benefits of massage therapy for people with fibromyalgia, recommending one to two gentle, painless massage treatments per week with gradual increases in intensity (depending on the severity of the person’s condition).

Scientists continue to examine the mechanisms of massage therapy and the root causes of fibromyalgia. Research shows massage therapy helps people with chronic pain, as well as those recovering from injuries and surgery. People who receive regular massages sleep better, have less anxiety and depression, and experience improved range of motion. The benefits of massage therapy can lead to pain relief and better quality of life for many.


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12 Popular Massage Techniques and How They Help You

Are you new to massage therapy? Whether you’re an experienced person looking to expand your self-care horizons or a massage newbie, you’ll likely be amazed by the number of available massage therapy techniques and practices and the benefits they can bring you.

For those of you trying massage therapy for the first time, or for those looking to explore new techniques for health and wellness, here’s 12 of the most popular massage and bodywork practices and some info on how they might benefit you:


Acupressure therapists use the same meridian system as acupuncture practitioners, but without the needles!

For more than 5,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have developed and refined this traditional healing art. Acupressurists, as they are called, use their hands to apply pressure to trigger points throughout the body. This technique is believed to unblock “stuck” body energy and open up the pathway for healing energy to return the mind and body to a state of wellness.

Acupressure has been used to treat sexual dysfunction, stress, and for beauty purposes. Acupression, for example, may improve the skin, tone facial muscles, and help the body relieve congestions.

Aromatherapy Massage

Ancient cultures across the globe have practiced massage and aromatherapy. Chinese, Egyptian, and Indian practitioners, for example, have incorporated these modalities into many of their medicinal traditions. Ancient Greeks and Romans used these techniques not only for healing and relaxation but also for spiritual enlightenment. Massage therapists who combine massage and aromatherapy may provide clients with a deeper, more relaxing experience than a standard massage.

While you’re getting your massage, inhale your favorite scent or have your practitioner recommend one to meet your individual needs, such as lavender for stress and anxiety relief.

Chair Massage

Many people first experience the benefits of massage and bodywork in the form of chair massage. Chair massage therapists, sometimes spotted in shopping malls and airports, use special chairs that allow clients to remain fully clothed and mostly upright.

This often quick, soothing form of massage allows people to take a quick and healthful break from their busy day. Researchers have shown that even these short massage breaks reduce people’s heart rates, blood pressure, and, of course, stress and anxiety levels.

Many corporations have found that periodically offering chair massage as a benefit to their employees increases productivity, focus, and morale. In only 10-20 minutes, your staff can enjoy the stress relief, health benefits, and team-building experience of chair massage in the convenience of your workplace.

Chinese Massage

Chinese tui na massage practitioners employ rhythmic compression methods to free up and balance “qi” (body energy). These massage therapists combine energy work and meridian release elements of related practices like acupressure and acupuncture, without using any needles. Tui na also involves many of the rubbing and kneading techniques common to most Western massage styles.

Gua Sha

This ancient Chinese practice roughly translates into English as “scraping away fever.” Traditional practitioners of gua sha used bone, stone, jade, or horn implements to rub their clients’ oiled skin. Today, gua sha therapists tend to use rounded plastic tools to offer their clients a less painful and more modern hygienic experience. Gua sha practitioners use these implements to rub their clients’ backs and shoulders to increase circulation beneath the skin (often using a soothing, lubricating balm).

Medical researchers have found evidence that this simple technique encourages the body to release many powerful healing effects. As the body reabsorbs the blood from the treated areas (which often appear red and blotchy for a few days), it releases chemicals that fight infection, reduce inflammation, and protect cells.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage therapists heat special stones in a sanitary solution and place them on their clients’ backs, in their palms, and even between their toes. Like the popular Swedish style of massage, hot stone massage therapists may use oils to lubricate their clients’ surface tissues before employing deep tissue techniques.

Your hot stone massage practitioner may even rub your muscles lengthwise with the heated stones to release even more tension.

Lomi Lomi

Traditional Hawaiian healers called “kahunas” employed massage techniques in conjunction with meditation, plant-based medicine, and breath work. Also sometimes referred to as Hawaiian temple medicine, lomi lomi massage can help you activate mana (life energy) to increase well-being, increase circulation, and lower blood pressure.

Myofascial Release

Connective tissues called fascia run throughout your entire body. They surround and support your muscles, which means they can inhibit range of motion when tightened by overuse, injury, or surgical recovery.
Unlike massage therapists, who work on muscles and soft tissues, myofascial release practitioners focus on fascial lengthening and softening to reduce pain and increase mobility.

Orthopedic Massage

Orthopedic massage practitioners focus on correcting malformed bones and muscles with massage therapy techniques. These therapists help their clients manage pain, achieve better alignment and posture, and improve joint function.


Reflexology therapists massage their clients’ hands and feet to activate inner healing. This practice bears many similarities to acupressure and acupuncture, but, again, without using any needles. Reflexology practitioners manipulate points on their patients’ bodies that correspond with internal organs.

This healing modality can trigger your autonomous nervous system and increase hormone production.


Named after its founder, Ida Rolf, this massage technique involves may involved a little more discomfort than some gentler styles. Also known as structural integration, this style of massage may greatly improve your posture and range of motion.

Rolfing practitioners assist their clients in achieving moderately difficult yoga-like poses to realign their musculoskeletal systems and bear their body weight better with proper posture.

Russian Massage

Modern Russian massage, sometimes called Russian sports massage, was once only available to athletes, the ill, and the injured. Russian (and Soviet) physicians advanced the science and practice of massage on the battlefield and in the sports arena. Russia, a comparatively massage-friendly nation, has provided some of the world’s top massage researchers and therapists.

Russian bath houses, called banyas, still offer traditional Russian massage venik (or “twigging”) treatments which involve hitting clients (gently) with oak or birch branches. However, modern Russian massage practitioners use their hands to relieve pain and increase range of motion with kneading, percussive, and even vibration techniques.

And There’s More!

Some consider Reiki a form of massage; others view it as energy- or bodywork. Like massage therapists, Reiki practitioners place their hands on their clients’ bodies; however, they don’t rub and knead soft tissues. Simply by placing their hands on a patient (for up to 10 minutes a position), Reiki masters are believed to be able to transmit healing energy and clear out negative thoughts and emotion.

Whether you choose to find a massage therapist for an intense, relaxing, spiritual, or practical massage style, remember you can always return to this site (and this article) to explore new and different massage therapy options. You can also click the relevant links to dig deeper into these types of massage to discover their history, medical science, and modern practice—as well as what to expect from your first massage session!


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