Pain is often associated with some injury or illness, and it’s assumed by many people to be a temporary state. But for some people, pain is a frequent part of their everyday lives. Chronic pain is often defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks, but chronic pain can persist for months, or even years. It is estimated that one in five Canadians suffers from chronic pain, and often chronic pain has no clear cause or end in sight. Although the causes for illnesses like fibromyalgia are unclear, there is evidence that massage therapy can help manage chronic pain from fibromyalgia and other chronic conditions.

About Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas, as well as sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain’s pain receptors seem to develop a memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals.

How can Massage Therapy Help?

One study suggests that massage therapy can increase the quality of life and decrease pain for fibromyalgia sufferers. At the conclusion of this study, anxiety levels, quality of sleep, pain and quality of life improved in patients who had received massage therapy.

A review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials relating to the use of massage therapy for the management of fibromyalgia found that massage therapy, provided for a duration of five weeks or longer, is a viable treatment option for fibromyalgia.

Other Chronic Pain Conditions

Statistics suggest that back pain is the most common chronic condition in Canada, and four in five Canadians will experience an episode of back pain in their lives. Chronic low back pain may be caused by a variety of different conditions and research suggests massage therapy can provide relief from this painful condition.

More recent research has elaborated on previous studies focusing on the effects of massage therapy for chronic low back pain. This study found that patients receiving massage therapy were twice as likely to report significant improvements in both pain and function. Patients receiving massage therapy also said that they took fewer-anti- inflammatory drugs than they did prior to receiving massage therapy treatment.

Massage Therapy for Chronic Pain

Although there is no cure for chronic pain conditions, massage therapy is one of the many options that will help manage and alleviate pain from these conditions. Chronic pain can stop you from doing the things you want to or need to do, but massage therapy can help get you back to normal function. For chronic conditions, studies have suggested that more frequent massage therapy treatments, closer together might be the most effective. Often chronic pain is accompanied by symptoms of depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping, and massage therapy is a proven option to help manage these difficult conditions.

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Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, Wellman R, Cook AJ, Johnson E, Erro J, Delaney K, Deyo RA. A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 5; 155(1):1-9. [link]

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