Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes wide-spread pain and other disruptive symptoms. Fibromyalgia occurs in roughly 1 in 50 people and symptoms can develop at any age. It is more commonly experienced by women.
The main symptoms of fibromyalgia are wide-spread pain, hypersensitivity and stiffness, however the condition presents differently from person to person. For example, some individuals experience pain everywhere, others experience most of their symptoms in the lower half of their body, whilst some complain of more specific areas of pain. An example of a more specific fibromyalgia symptom is rib pain, or costochondritis, which is inflammation of the rib cartilage which can cause pain during exercise, when coughing or when lying in certain positions. It is important to remember that unlike conditions such as arthritis, the pain experienced with fibromyalgia is not causing any damage to the joints.
Other symptoms include IBS, headaches, anxiety, depression and ‘fibro fog’ which is characterised by loss of concentration, memory problems and confusion.
There is currently no known cause of fibromyalgia, but it is believed that a number of factors are involved in the development of symptoms.
Alterations in Pain Processing
It is thought that people with fibromyalgia have developed changes in their central nervous system which affects the way in which their brains process pain. The central nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord and nerves and so changes to this system explain why pain is constantly felt across the body.
Through research, it has been discovered that fibromyalgia patients have lower than normal levels of certain hormones including serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.
These hormones are key regulators of mood, sleep, behavior, appetite, stress response and processing pain messages. It is possible to increase the levels of these hormones through medication prescribed by a GP.
Although disrupted sleep is a symptom of fibromyalgia it could also be a cause. It has been found that when an individual suffers from chronic fatigue due to lack of sleep, they also have increased levels of and sensitivity to pain.
Research has suggested that certain genes can increase a person’s predisposition to developing fibromyalgia. This explains why some people develop the condition after an event or trigger whilst others do not.
Fibromyalgia can develop at any point in a person’s life and often follows a stressful event - be it physical or emotional.
Likely triggers include:
Fibromyalgia can also develop on its own without an obvious trigger.
How can Sports Massage help?
The main way a sports massage can help is to reduce muscle and joint stiffness and to increase relaxation.
Massage can reduce stiffness in muscles and joints by increasing circulation and bringing vital nutrients to the soft tissue. An increase in blood flow also raises the temperature of the muscles and joints which increases pliability and relieves tension. As muscles span joints, a reduction in muscle tone will reduce joint tension as well.
Sports massage promotes relaxation through reducing physical muscular tension and increasing the happy hormones including endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Increasing levels of these hormones can improve sense of well-being and reduce anxiety.
If you have never had a massage or have not had a massage since you were diagnosed with fibromyalgia it is important to bear in mind that it may aggravate your symptoms. During your first appointment, light, gentle pressure will be used and your therapist will work with you to figure out which techniques you react best to.
Clinical Medicine, 9th Edition