Updated January 05, 2015.
Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com’s Medical Review Board.
Because fibromyalgia can involve pain, stiffness, and anxiety, massage therapy seems like a logical treatment to try. Those of us who have tried massage for fibromyalgia, however, report mixed results. Some people say it’s done amazing things for them, while others report little or no effect — or even a negative effect.
Why the mixed results? In part, it may be due to the many types of massage therapy that are available.
Which types are best for us? A 2014 review of medical literature sought to answer that question. Researchers looked at studies on myofascial release, connective tissue massage (also called deep tissue massage), manual lymphatic drainage, Shiatsu, and Swedish massage.
After analyzing the data, researchers said:
Myofascial release had a large positive impact on pain and some positive effects on anxiety, depression, fatigue, stiffness, and quality of life;
Connective tissue massage may improve depression and quality of life (suggestive results of narrative analysis);
Manual lymph drainage appeared to be more effective than connective tissue massage when it came to stiffness, depression, and quality of life;
Shiatsu may improve pain, pain threshold (related to pressure), fatigue, sleep, and quality of life;
Swedish massage does not appear to have any beneficial effect.
Thus, ranking in these in order of effectiveness would look like this:
Myofascial release (supported by moderate evidence);
Manual lymph drainage;
Connective tissue massage and Shiatsu;
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.
Yuan SL, Matsutani LA, Marques AP. Manual Therapy. 2014 Oct 5. pii: S1356-689X(14)00182-9. Effectiveness of different styles of massage therapy in fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis.