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Fibromyalgia Pain Explained



Everyone will react differently so there is no one way to treat a client with fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a very debilitating, and often misunderstood, condition. Because there is no single test for it, and there are no outward physical signs of the illness, it can be difficult to diagnose.


A final diagnosis can only be made following analysis of the symptoms experienced and all other conditions being ruled out. Fibromyalgia is becoming more commonly known as fibromyalgia syndrome but has also been known in the past as unspecified rheumatism and muscular rheumatism. The growing body of medical opinion points to it being a disorder of the central nervous system; research is ongoing. It is a condition that affects many people, with estimates of seven million sufferers in the US alone and over one million in the UK.


The symptoms of fibromyalgia are many and varied but three of the central problems are chronic pain (and hypersensitivity to pain), chronic fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction.

The chronic pain will usually be widespread; it may feel to sufferers as if they have just run a marathon or are coming down with flu, or it can instead be a sharp, intense arthritic pain. The pain can also be experienced as stabbing, shooting, or burning, for up to 24 hours a day, every day. This in itself is extremely debilitating, and if added to chronic fatigue to the extent where the limbs feel as if they are made of lead, and every movement takes immense amounts of energy, then a fuller picture comes together.

“Brain fog” or “fibro fog” is common, as cognitive function is impacted by the condition, with sufferers experiencing difficulty in concentrating and being easily distracted, and that can also lead to problems in decision making, memory, speaking properly, or even remembering which task the sufferer was halfway through.

Sleep Disturbance

Sleep disturbances are to be expected, which compounds the chronic fatigue. Medical research undertaken in the US has uncovered where exactly in the usual sleep patterns this disturbance occurs. There are “specific and distinctive abnormalities in the Stage 4 deep sleep” of fibromyalgia patients. During sleep, individuals with fibromyalgia are constantly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity, limiting the amount of time they spend in deep sleep.” In practice this means that the fibromyalgia sufferer is not benefitting from the deeper, healing sleep that the rest of the population experience, making it difficult for the body to repair itself.

Muscular Tension

Muscular tension, waking with stiff and sore muscles, digestive disorders, and recurrent headaches may all be experienced by the person with fibromyalgia. Many will also experience balance problems, which can result in painful falls; digestive disorders; and itchy and burning skin—all these making up the difficult package of fibromyalgia symptoms.

Fibromyalgia and Massage

How, then, can massage help a person who may be experiencing both hyperalgesia—feeling more pain than would be usual from what would normally be a mildly painful event—and allodynia—feeling pain from a stimulus that would not usually be painful at all?

In presenting the initial symptoms it seems that massage would be contraindicated; however, fibromyalgia self-help networks show that massage is the non-drug treatment of choice for the fibromyalgia patient. There are, however, some very clear guidelines for safe and successful massage for people with this condition.

Specific Contraindications

The most important factor with any massage is to start treatment very gently. Even the lightest touch may be excruciatingly painful, so it is essential that you start very gently and perhaps build depth as sessions progress, and as you are able to receive feedback from your clients as to how their body has responded to the treatment.

That said, it is also important to be “sure” in your touch; tentative or nervous contact may stimulate the skin too much and cause pain. Be gentle but confident.

It will be best to work in short sessions to begin with; this can be built upon as both therapist and client learn how the fibromyalgia will respond to massage. Everyone will react differently so there is no one way to treat a client with fibromyalgia.

If you are working in a "friends-and-family" context at home, even 10 minutes’ work may help, while avoiding overstimulating the receiver.

In a professional context it would be better to start with a 30 minute session and build on this over time. It would be rare to achieve a session length of over an hour but, again, see how your individual client responds

Fibromyalgia Alternative Treatments

Medications, complementary therapies, and self-care strategies are all used for the treatment of fibromyalgia. This chronic condition affects millions of people worldwide. It's important for people with fibromyalgia to work closely with their healthcare provider to find the best treatments for their individual needs.

Medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and antidepressants. Many of these medications have side effects and can become addictive. In addition, steroids are often prescribed to reduce the pain associated with fibromyalgia. However, they have serious side effects. Also, if taken regularly, steroids can increase the risk of heart disease.

Other medications, such as pain relievers and muscle relaxants, can also help with the pain of fibromyalgia. There are also over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, which can be helpful. If you take too much acetaminophen, you may have problems with your liver.

In addition, there are various types of massage therapy that can help with fibromyalgia. One type, called acupuncture, is based on inserting very thin needles into the skin. It's believed that this therapy can cause changes in the nerves, which in turn can improve the flow of energy. It can also be used to treat headaches.

Cognitive behavioural therapy has been found to help people with fibromyalgia. This type of counselling teaches people how to identify their body sensations, and then teaches them techniques to calm their mind and reduce the negative feelings associated with fibromyalgia. In addition, it has been shown to improve a person's overall functioning.

Other forms of therapy include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and massage. These can help with the neuroendocrine changes that fibromyalgia patients have. They can also teach a person how to do exercises that can increase their mobility and relieve their pain. They may also include problem-solving and relaxation techniques.

There are also several FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of fibromyalgia. These drugs were developed for other conditions, but have been found to be effective for fibromyalgia. These include Cymbalta, Milnacipran, and duloxetine. These drugs can help relieve depression, anxiety, and pain.

There are other non-medication fibromyalgia treatments, as well. Meditation is a type of stress management that helps you connect your mind and body. Try to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day. You can even try an alternative therapy, such as tai chi. This involves slow movements and deep breathing. You can start by doing just five minutes a day and then move on to more time if you want.

Another option for fibromyalgia is to visit a chiropractor, who can perform chiropractic adjustments. This is an alternative form of treatment that can help with back and neck pain. A chiropractor can also help the body to work mechanically, which can reduce the pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Yoga is a great way to improve your body's overall function and relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. It involves stretching, breathing, and deep movements, which are all helpful in managing fibromyalgia. 

In addition to medical advice from a physician, try to seek out a manual therapist, massage therapist or fitness professional who has experience of working with similar symptoms to your own.

Good luck!


This trigger point therapy blog and the information contained in this website is intended to be used for information purposes only and is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or to substitute for a medical diagnosis and/or treatment rendered or prescribed by a physician or competent healthcare professional. This information is designed as educational material, but should not be taken as a recommendation for treatment of any particular person or patient. Always consult your physician if you think you need treatment or if you feel unwell.



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