Massage Treatment and Fibromyalgia
It’s not uncommon for fibromyalgia suffers to seek alternative care like massage as a way to manage the symptoms of the disease and find some pain relief. Skilled remedial massage therapists often come across patients with fibromyalgia. Some therapists also specialize in working with fibromyalgia patients. They have special training in the disorder and know how to work around the pressure points to provide some pain relief.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic musculoskeletal condition that can cause such severe widespread pain and fatigue that the afflicted are unable to do anything and spend most of their days in bed. Some statistics suggest that as many as seven million Americans have the condition and most of those afflicted are women.
While people have been experiencing this disorder for many years, it’s only recently been recognized by the American medical community (and the medical communities of other countries) as an actual illness. Approximately 20 years ago it was officially recognized as a physical condition. Before that fibromyalgia was seen as a psychosomatic disorder. A psychosomatic disorder is one where there are physical symptoms but the symptoms are caused by the mind and emotions. Basically, the medical community thought fibro was not a real condition and that people could think their way out of the pain.
Now that fibromyalgia is considered an actual medical condition, money has been put into researching the cause and the reason for the condition. Still, medical researchers aren’t sure what the pathological events are that cause the development of the condition. There is a popular theory that the condition is a neurotransmitter misbalance that’s triggered by anything from stress to sleep disorders, to hormonal changes to chemical exposure.
Explanation of the Chronic Pain in Muscles
Connective tissues play an important role in managing fibromyalgia pain. They provide pathways for blood vessels and nerves which can send pain signals to the brain. When muscles and tendons are strained, they become inflamed. Inflammation can cause calcium deposits where the muscles and tendons attach to the bones. This can cause chronic pain. There is also a connection between the calcium deposit build up, chronic pain and neurotransmitter levels.
Some medical studies show that fibromyalgia patients have low levels of adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) in their muscles. ATP provides energy to the muscles. ATP molecules are used when the central nervous system sends a signal to the muscles to move. ATP causes actin and myosin to slide past or attach to one another during muscular contractions which make the muscle tense up. The right levels of ATP molecules also allow the actin and myosin to detach which makes the muscles relax. The longer the muscle remains tense, the sooner the ATP depletes which means there’s no ATP to help the muscle properly relax again. It remains tense.
The cycle continues. When the muscle is needed to complete a task, it uses ATP to tense up. But if the ATP supply is depleted, there isn’t enough to allow the muscle to completely relax. This causes tension to build up in the muscles which decreases their elasticity and ultimately the microcirculation.
Insufficient blood supply changes the pH of the blood and activates pain receptors. If this happens long enough, the pain receptors are over activated which changes neurotransmitter activities. Chronic pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms emerge.
In about 10 percent of patients, massage can permanently aggravate the pain. The reason for this is not known. Most patients experience more pain for the first three or four treatments and then notice an improvement.
Massage therapists suspect that the increased pain could be caused by the stimulation of oxygen to the oxygen-starved blood cells. This sudden overload of oxygen leads to excessive release of toxic waste from the circulatory system and tissues. This can cause more pain. Usually within 10 to 15 treatments the patient experiences significant positive changes.