If you have one of many illnesses causing chronic pain, you are ‘painfully’ (forgive the pun) familiar with trying to not be in pain.
Maybe you’ve considered trying massage but are too afraid of causing a flare.
Or it’s been recommended to you, but you dread the thought of someone touching you and causing more pain.
Well, that’s what the Try Files are for. I try something and share my experience so you can make an informed decision. With that in mind, let’s get down to answering the question, “Does a massage hurt if I have fibromyalgia?”
Before I jump straight into my experience, let’s take a quick look at massage. If you want to skip the preliminaries and go straight to the experiment, click here.
Why try a massage for pain?
Chronic pain patients know a thing or two about pain management. From pills to mediation, to therapy and exercise, not many stones have gone unturned in finding the best ways to reduce pain.
The scary thought of being naked in front of someone. Or having a stranger touch you. Or causing more pain.
All of these can be 100% overwhelming if you’re considering a massage for fibro.
So why do it?
Because, studies have shown it helps.
In fact, a review of 19 studies over two years found “improved pain, anxiety, and depression in people with fibromyalgia” and “most styles of massage had beneficial effects on quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.” (Source)
What, then, are we supposed to do with all the ‘testimonies’ saying it doesn’t work for them or was too painful?
This is where it gets tricky.
There are A LOT of factors that go in to the success of massage in treating fibromyalgia.
Was the person having a flare? Did they go to the right therapist? Did they practice good after-care?
Any one of these things could cause a terrible experience!
How to get a massage with chronic pain
1. Manage your expectations
Massage will not cure fibromyalgia. If you go into the experience thinking you will never have pain again, you are going to be disappointed.
Also, you’re likely to be somewhat sore after a massage. Even a perfectly healthy person will experience this.
It doesn’t mean the massage hurt you. Instead, it worked your muscles in a way they aren’t used to. The stress reduction benefits and overall muscle wellness are still present even if you feel some soreness.
2. Do your homework
Read about the different types of massage here. If there’s something you know you aren’t interested in, make a note.
Then look around for an experienced massage therapist. Don’t be afraid to make calls to spas and ask if they have providers that are comfortable treating fibromyalgia with massage.
This can definitely, without a doubt, be a deal-breaker. Spend time on this!
And don’t forget, massage therapists can be found in several places: chiropractors offices, functional medicine offices, etc. You don’t specifically need a spa for massage to work.
3. Control your experience
You have ALL THE CONTROL.
Once you’ve found the right therapist, you can control when you go. And how long you go for.
You can control how much/little clothing you wear.
You can decide if there are ‘no go’ zones that you know cannot be touched without pain.
This. Cannot. Be. Ignored!
If they are using a pressure or stroke that is uncomfortable, they want to know about it as much as you want them to know.
I can guarantee, from years of experience, that they want your massage to be helpful for you.
If for no other reason than they probably want you to be a return customer!
But that’s the selfish viewpoint. They are professionals who are doing a job they enjoy – bringing people peace and pain relief. If they are not doing that, telling them will improve the experience for both of you.
5. Drink ALL the water
After your massage, drink water.
Why drink water after a massage?
Ok, science is a bit murky here. Plenty of massage therapists say massage releases waste product that needs to be flushed by water. Others say there is no science backing that up.
But what I know from experience is I am less sore after a massage if I drink water. So in this particular case, I’m siding with the experienced therapists who say it’s a must.
If nothing else, staying hydrated is an important and healthy thing to do. You can read about my experience drinking 2 liters of water a day here.
6. Chemical Sensitivities
Massage therapy often (always) uses some form or oil or lotion.
If you have sensitivities to products, make sure to consider what is being used. It’s possible you can provide your own, but make sure to communicate this ahead of time so you don’t cut into your paid relaxation time!
The massage experience
Setting an appointment
Something amazing I’ve discovered is doctors can prescribe massage therapy and your insurance may help pay for it.
Since money is always a factor, this may be the path you chose.
However, I used a wonderful gift certificate to my favorite spa (thanks to a mom and dad who know me well!)
I have had almost 100% success with this spa and their therapists. The only failures (2 times) were my fault. Both times I should have spoken up but chose not to because…well…I’m human.
I also love that my spa can schedule online. Takes a lot of pressure off, thanks to that pesky social anxiety I never had before fibromyalgia.
So, I set the appointment for 2 days in advance. I knew I wasn’t currently flaring and needed some serious de-stressing.
Also, a shorter massage is a great way to start out until you are comfortable with the process. Do not jump straight into a 90 minute massage and assume the longer the better!
Day of the massage
On the day of the massage, I “checked in with myself”, in a manner of speaking.
I fully evaluated what type of pain I was feeling and if I believed I could be touched that day.
Other than my usual pains, I wasn’t feeling particularly sensitive to touch so I knew I would be okay that day.
Before the massage – Communicating
When I met the therapist, she jumped straight in to asking if there was anything I wanted her to focus on.
I had been having particularly nasty back and neck pain, but know from experience that I didn’t want to start the conversation there.
Had I only mentioned this pain, it’s likely she would have focused a lot of attention on these areas and left me more sore than I was going in. Additionally, I was looking for stress relief and relaxation.
Massage for stress relief is much more beneficial, for me, than muscle work.
I slowed down the conversation by telling her about my fibromyalgia and the pain I have in my body.
I also specifically mentioned that I benefit from relaxation massage more than deep or intense work.
I was comfortable she understood and she mentioned I could tell her at any point that the pressure was too strong. I am always glad to hear them say this because I know they understand what I’m saying.
She left me to undress to the level I was comfortable and get under the full coverings on the heated table.
During the massage
I’ve been to this spa before, so I am already comfortable with the environment.
However, if you are in a new place, make sure you are comfortable with the room and its contents. Even the music playing can impact your experience. If you can’t relax, you are going to tense up and likely increase pain.
From the very beginning, I could tell the therapist was considering my fibromyalgia. She reminded me again I could tell her the pressure was too much.
At one point in the beginning, I was feeling uncomfortable when she handled a part of my neck.
“I am feeling tender in that spot.”
I choose to make a statement about myself instead of her pressure because that is what I am most comfortable with.
She lessened the pressure and, I believe, did not touch this spot as frequently.
We repeated this process once a bit later in the massage.
I also have to remind myself to relax. I realize that I’ve tensed up so much expecting pain that my whole body is tense.
Overall, this massage was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in a very long time. I left feeling relaxed, having lower pain, and pleased with the experience.
After the massage – The Results
It’s been a day and I can say I feel pretty good, pain-wise.
I was experiencing an elevated level of pain in my back, neck, hands, and feet that has calmed, at least temporarily.
And I can’t understate how great it was to relax for an hour and de-stress after a busy and taxing few weeks.
Important tips for getting a massage with chronic pain
I touched briefly on massage over in the complete beginner’s guide to fibromyalgia.
You can read about more treatment options there.
These are few questions I have talked about previously that you will want to ask yourself before you jump in:
- What type of massage is right for you?
- Is there an area of your body that needs more attention?
- Is there an area of your body that is a no-go zone? (The back of my arms, for example, are much too painful to be touched ever!)
- Is there a specific length of time that you can stand being touched?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- Will your insurance cover a medical massage?
The bottom line is, massage doesn’t have to hurt if you have fibromyalgia. In fact, it may be able to help with fibromyalgia pain and mental health issues related to chronic pain.
You need to tread carefully, though, take your time, and be prepared. As with any other treatment for fibromyalgia, you have to be able to speak for yourself and your needs so you can be treated properly.
Let me know your experience with massage to treat your fibromyalgia pain. Let’s have a conversation about your fears and successes!
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