Does Myofascial Release Work for Fibromyalgia?

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This Massage Technique May Decrease Pain With Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome that is not fully understood. Patients diagnosed with this syndrome often suffer from joint rigidity, generalized pain, sleep problems, unrelenting fatigue, depression, anxiety and troubles with the digestive system.

There are many theories as to why people develop fibromyalgia but effective treatment is limited and doesn’t work for everyone. As the cause is unknown, treatment of the syndrome generally involves managing individual symptoms but patients can often be left feeling frustrated and have can trouble getting through their day.

What is Fascia?

Fascia is the connective tissue “armor” of the body, tightening immediately in response to signals from the many nerves running throughout it. This provides strength in emergency situations and can be life-saving in the short-term.

Researchers believe that a rapid contraction of the fascia is what creates the enormous extra strength that humans can produce in emergencies; for example, when a mother overpowers a mountain lion that is attacking her child, as happened recently in Colorado.

And fibromyalgia we know that the brain is mistakenly triggering the danger or “fight-or-flight” alarm bells all the time, instead of only in emergencies. This occurs not in our thinking brain, but in those areas that control basic housekeeping functions like breathing and digestion. Sustained danger signals from the brain to the muscles results chronically tight muscles.

 

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Tightness in the fascia

Tightness lies not only in the muscles themselves but also in the fascia, that connective tissue casing that surrounds the muscles (think of the casing around a sausage that surrounds and contains the meat inside). And this sustained tightness of the fascia not only causes pain, it also generates inflammation, and contorts the muscles into painful knots called trigger points.

Myofascial release therapy

As myofascial release therapy can help to release tension and tightness in muscle groups, myofascial massage was studied and found to reduce pain and improve quality of sleep, anxiety, and overall quality of life in those suffering from fibromyalgia.

In the studies conducted, patients receiving the therapy had treatment mainly at the lower cervical joints, the right greater trochanter and gluteus muscles and it helped to establish a pathological process which included nutrient limitation to the myofascial tissue. Due to nutrient deficiency at the area, the tissue becomes dysfunctional if left untreated, creating sensitivity. The myofascial release improved sensitivity and pain for those in the experimental group.

It increase circulation, relaxation, and lymphatic drainage

Use of myofascial release therapy in patients with fibromyalgia helps to increase circulation, relaxation, and lymphatic drainage of the affected muscles by stimulating the area and removing the tension and rigidity of the muscle and its corresponding myofascial area.

Instead of simply masking the pain as in the case of many pharmaceutical treatment options, a qualified therapist is able to use indirect or direct myofascial techniques to release the fascia and relieve pain from its source.

Effectiveness of treatment

It reduces tension and that can “unstick” painful knots in the muscles and surrounding fascia. The treatment that has helped me the most personally is a form of manual therapy called myofascial release (MFR). This technique involves a combination of sustained manual traction and prolonged gentle stretching of fascia and is by the far the most effective treatment I have found to unstick the fascia and reduce fibromyalgia pain.

It is gentle in nature.

Indirect myofascial release

Indirect myofascial release is a massage method which is gentle in nature. The tissues involved are gently stretched and increase blood flow and temperature of the area causing it to be released. This method uses a nonstop pressure over a specified time period.

 Direct myofascial release

Direct myofascial release is a massage method which uses deep tissue massage with constantly applied pressure. This massage type will usually begin in a massage that approaches the layers one by one until deeper tissues are reached until the fascia is released.

Although there have not been many studies conducted using myofascial massage technique as a treatment for fibromyalgia patients, the ones which were conducted displayed that patients receiving the treatment did gain benefits from its use. As many people receiving treatment for fibromyalgia are currently unsatisfied with its results, and those who attend myofascial release therapy have experienced increased quality of life, less pain sensitivity, mood improvement, less anxiety, and better sleep cycles for fibromyalgia patients.

When Considering Massage Therapy

You may have heard of negative experiences with these types of massage or had a negative experience yourself. It’s important to remember that each case of fibromyalgia is unique and we each need to choose the types of treatments that work for us.

Also, not all massage therapists are created equal. Some of them understand fibromyalgia better than others and can adapt their techniques to us. Many of us are extremely sensitive to touch. Before you allow any kind of practitioner to give you manual therapy, you need to make sure he or she understands this condition as well as your particular set of symptoms.

Consult with your primary care physician

As with all therapies, medications, or alternative approaches, it is best to consult with your primary care physician before beginning anything new to see if you are a good candidate before you start. Although there are few complications associated with this treatment, those with deep vein issues, fragile bones, bleeding disorders, or those on certain medications that can thin the blood may be excluded from trying this massage technique for their fibromyalgia.

 

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References:

  • Castro-Sanchez AM, et al. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM. 2011;2011:561753. Benefits of massage-myofascial release therapy on pain, anxiety, quality of sleep, depression, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Ceda D, Elvira L, Guzman JF, Pablos A. Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 2017 Jul-Aug;57(7-8):993-1002. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707. Benefits of a self-myofascial release program on health-related quality of life in people with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial.
  • Kain J, et al. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2011 Jan;15(1):63-7. Comparison of an indirect tri-planar myofascial release (MFR) technique and a hot pack for increasing range of motion.
  • Liptan GL. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2010 Jan;14(1):3-12 Fascia: A missing link in our understanding of the pathology of fibromyalgia.
  • Meltzer KR, et al. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2010 Apr;14(2):162-71. In vitro modeling of repetitive motion injury and myofascial release.

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