Benefits of massage for Fibromyalgia

As a therapist and someone with a Fibromyalgia, it often saddens me when people are wrongly educated about the effects of massage and the suitability of a client with Fibromyalgia.

Many of us with Fibro often have a whole package of other illnesses and are taking numerous medications. This needs to be assessed in order to discover the client's suitability.

I have been for so many treatments (in posh places) and left shocked when no consultation was given, no consent taken and no aftercare gave! As a therapist with the Federation of Holistic Therapists, I was always bound over by a strict code of conduct that ensured excellent practice at all times. We had to obtain a consultation prior to each therapy and also gain signed consent that the client fully agrees to what the procedure entails. The client's medical history would be obtained and it would be during this interaction with the client that the therapist would ascertain suitability for treatments. Many times as a therapist it would be difficult to have to turn people away post-consultation. Some illnesses are not suitable for massage as they would make you feel very unwell afterwards, these are called contraindications.

A contraindication is something that will prevent the treatment from taking place, it can be a general contraindication or one directed to a specific area.

General contraindications (unable to treat the client)

  • Diabetes.  Many claim that if their diabetes is well controlled over a sustained period and they do not have wide blood sugar level swings then they will be fine providing they also eat prior to massage to avoid becoming hypoglycemic. I have discussed this often with nonFHT Member therapists who do indeed treat diabetic clients. I always err on the side of caution and adopt the well respected "if in doubt do nothing" policy. 
  • Cardiovascular conditions including hypertension/hypotension (High or low blood pressure), thrombosis, embolism, phlebitis, angina, pacemakers. Clients would often not disclose they had high blood pressure and it would only be noted when I would take a list of currently prescribed medication. "But I don't have high blood pressure anymore!" I would often be told only to then have to explain, yes you do it is simply the medication controlling it. Massage would place you at risk of huge complications. 
  • Any dysfunction of the nervous system. Such as Epilepsy or loss of sensation to an area. If you have nerve pain due to fibromyalgia, I agree it is a dysfunction but the gentle strokes in massage can smooth nerve endings and be beneficial so do not avoid based upon fibro nerve pain unless anaesthesia or epilepsy is present.
  • If a high temperature or fever is present. 
  • Any unexplained swellings or swollen glands until a medic has determined the underlining cause. 
  • Pregnancy (first 12 weeks and where applicable) Many therapists will not offer massage for liability issues as the first trimester is the greatest risk of miscarriage and a pregnancy is so precious. It is advised to find a good qualified VTCT  qualified perinatal massage therapist who can provide safe messages throughout pregnancy. .
  • Postnatal (6 weeks) A midwife would not agree to any treatments within this period as your body is still 
  • Any general infection such as flu, impetigo, fungal, or infestation such as head lice. 
  • Blood diseases
  • Cancer currently in the process of treatment from medics.
  • Under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.

Contraindications specific to an area (unable to treat this area) 

  • Open wounds, cuts, and abrasions.
  • Acne.
  • Boils, bites, stings.
  • Fresh tattoo.
  • Dilated arterioles.
  • Varicose veins.
  • Warts.
  • Large moles.
  • Over the abdomen during first three days of menstruation.
  • Caution with clients fitted with a coil.
  • Eczema.
  • Psoriasis.
  • Bruising.
  • Recent fractures.
  • Sunburn. 

Now after reading through the contraindications do you feel that any other medical conditions would interfere with treatments? I often feel maybe this is the reason people share such bad horror stories on a social network.

  • Maybe they never received the consultation? 
  • Maybe no aftercare was given? 
  • Maybe they should never have been massaged?

Currently, I am contraindicated on the grounds of diet controlled diabetes and also I have regular anaesthesia in my arms due to migraines. I am currently on medication for epilepsy to control this and lessen the migraine attacks. At the moment, I have the flu and a chest infection so I am on penicillin and Prednisolone.

Unless all this is taken into account during consultation by an ethical therapist then massage may go ahead regardless of my three contraindications!

I can only imagine how ill I would feel the days following a massage if I went for one now.

Every Fibro/ME client is different so discuss your needs:

It is hardly surprising when you read the list of symptoms associated with Fibromyalgia that we all have the same illness presenting differently. Areas of localised pain need to be highlighted to the therapist so that massage pressure can be tailored accordingly. It is only through a great communication between client and therapist that the correct pressure will be achieved.

Always make sure you have adequate rest time to rebalance: 

Many people wrongly believe a massage is a simple one-hour procedure. The effects of aromatherapy essential oils are still having an effect on your body for 24 hours.  To gain the maximum effects from the treatment we always recommend the client rests afterwards as the body needs to rebalance. Resting gives the body an opportunity to do this effectively. There is no point booking a massage the day before a busy day is planned. You ache for 24 hours after a massage in a fully healthy body so a person with fibromyalgia will need time the day after.

Extensive aftercare advice should be given and also backed up in leaflet form for the client to take home with them to refer back to within the hours after the massage.

Massage can help encourage proper circulation of blood throughout the system. Coupled with the correct breathing technique, regular massage therapy can promote tissue oxygenation.  This process helps eliminate pain and stiffness and promote better flexibility. There are several types of massages that may be used with patients who have fibromyalgia. It is believed that massage actually enhances the production of certain pain blockers, including endorphins, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These hormones work to counteract pain signals conducted by the brain, and this would explain why massage offers such dramatic pain relief. Massage also helps to improve the quality of sleep and sleep patterns and also has a profound effect on elevating the mood of the client and promoting people to take ownership of the management of their illness. 

I hope this helps in some small way to expel any doubts surrounding massage and fibromyalgia.

 Love and gentle hugs to you all


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