As the predominant gender afflicted with fibromyalgia, more and more women are being diagnosed with this chronic pain syndrome. Even though an estimated two to five percent of our population lives with this painful disorder, Western medicine can only offer side-effect laden symptom relief for a relatively small portion of those affected. As an alternative to taking prescription drugs, the pain identifying this ailment can be reduced by safe, non-invasive bodywork techniques. For those interested in a natural approach, massage therapists are one of the most likely sources a person with fibromyalgia will tap to fulfill their pain relief needs. As such, practitioners who include Therapeutic Touch in their treatments have a proven practice for providing relief to those suffering from this condition.
Because bodywork is being increasingly recognized by the healthcare community as a means to reduce pain, massage therapists are often recruited for fibromyalgia. However, the complexity of fibromyalgia requires extensive knowledge and skills to competently address it. Knowing about its nuances means understanding that having one set massage regimen for people with fibromyalgia is insufficient. Since the needs of a person with fibromyalgia can vary form day-to-day and from person-to-person, a practitioner must possess the following to be most effective:
- A variety of modalities mastered to choose from
- Good communication skills to adjust their treatment based on client feedback
- Flexibility to change their style mid-session
- A gentle, energetic approach for highly sensitive clients (or those having a highly sensitive day)
As published in the June 2007 edition of The Nursing Clinics of North America, researchers from Texas affirm that although the clinical proof is in the beginning stages, the value of energy therapies is promising. They confirm that studies of Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch and Reiki suggest that these healing modalities are effective in reducing anxiety, improving muscle relaxation, aiding in stress reduction, relaxation, and sense of well-being, promoting wound healing and reducing pain.
Fibromyalgia is an illness that causes chronic pain in the soft tissues of the body. A person with this syndrome likely has pain in their muscles, ligaments and tendons. Most people with fibromyalgia report aching all over, often saying their muscles feel like they are pulled or overworked. Sometimes symptoms include muscle twitches and burning sensations. In addition to muscular pain and stiffness, this ailment can also cause fatigue, sleep problems, depression and an inability to think clearly.
Scientists have several theories but no concrete understanding of what causes fibromyalgia. While a simple blood test or x-ray will not indicate fibromyalgia, the American College of Rheumatology has outlined the requirements for a fibromyalgia diagnosis:
- Muscle pain must be present for longer than three months
- Pain must occur at 11 out of 18 specific tender points on the body.
Because the quality, location and severity of fibromyalgia pain is constantly changing, therapists dealing with this disorder must be equally adaptable.
Developed by Dolores Krieger, RN, Ph.D., and Dora Kunz in the early 1970s, Therapeutic Touch (TT) is an energetic style of bodywork adapted from several different healing traditions. Commonly applied by nurses for a wide range of health conditions, TT has been shown to help reduce the pain and anxiety associated with fibromyalgia:
- As published in the May/June 2004 issue of Holistic Nursing Practice, Kansas researchers tested the effectiveness of TT on the experience of pain and quality of life for people with fibromyalgia. Their findings demonstrated that those with fibromyalgia had a statistically significant decrease in pain and improvement in quality of life associated with each TT application.
- As reported in 2007 by the Midwest Nursing Research Society, medications, exercise and stress reduction is only moderately effective in controlling the pain of fibromyalgia syndrome. Lead researcher Cate Stiller, Ph.D., conducted a study comparing the effects of TT and placebo on the pain and anxiety of 46 participants with fibromyalgia. The investigators concluded that the most important recommendation for nursing is that nurses can help their fibromyalgia patients manage their pain and anxiety by recommending TT as an effective therapy.
With an estimated 5 million Americans living with fibromyalgia, massage therapists who are well-versed in this chronic pain syndrome are best equipped to help those affected. The inconsistency of fibromyalgia pain’s location, quality and severity requires bodyworkers to have various skills ready to match their client’s current experience. Especially appreciated when a person with fibromyalgia is particularly sensitive, practicing an energetic type of bodywork is often the best fit. When included in a therapist’s repertoire, Therapeutic Touch can be a key modality for gently bringing pain relief to a fibromyalgia sufferer.
Denison, B., Touch the pain away: new research on therapeutic touch and persons with fibromyalgia syndrome, Holistic Nursing Practice, May-June 2004.
Engebretson J, Wardell DW, Energy Based Modalities, The Nursing Clinics of North America, June 2007.
www.fmnetnews.com, Symptoms, Fibromyalgia Network, 2008.
www.intelihealth.com, Therapeutic Touch, Aetna Intelihealth, Inc., 2008.
www.nursinglibrary.org, The Effect of Therapeutic Touch on Fibromyalgia Pain and Anxiety, Cate Stiller, PhD, Virginia Henderson International Nursing Library, 2007.