Natural Relief for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a poorly understood chronic pain condition that primarily afflicts women. Patients with fibromyalgia complain that they feel fatigued and ache all over as if they have the flu. They are generally otherwise healthy women and there seems no obvious reason for their pain. Many were very productive before they became afflicted. Symptoms can range from mild to severe but will persist for years. There is no known cause and there is no known cure. I once asked a pain management specialist what treatment conventional medicine had to offer fibromyalgia patients and his response was, "Not much." More recently, a new drug has been introduced that may offer relief to patients with fibromyalgia.

When I first began to practice massage seventeen years ago, it was difficult to find information about fibromyalgia. What information was available was often vague, confusing, and conflicting. At least half of all rheumatologists did not recognize fibromyalgia as a diagnosis and many sufferers went years before being diagnosed. Women often told me they hesitated to see a doctor because, as one put it, "I don't want them to tell me it's all in my head." When they were finally diagnosed, they were often told there was nothing to be done about it. What was a person with fibromyalgia to do? What was a massage therapist with fibromyalgia clients to do?

In my experience, the pendulum seems to have swung in the opposite direction. In recent years, a woman in pain is often told she has fibromyalgia whether she fits the profile for a diagnosis of fibromyalgia or not. I even had one healthy young woman, who had no pain, fatigue, or other symptoms, report that she was told by a doctor (who had never seen her before and was a sub for her regular doctor) that she had fibromyalgia. Two other female clients, who were later diagnosed with and treated successfully for frozen shoulder, were initially told that they had fibromyalgia. What's going on here?

Unfortunately, musculoskeletal pain is not well understood by many doctors. Overworked physicians who are under pressure to see too many patients in a day often do not feel they have the time to thoroughly investigate their patient's pains, pains which may be vague, not easily diagnosed, and do not seem life threatening. It's easy to dismiss them with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. When these clients come to my office, I do what I can to relieve their muscular pain and help them to determine what perpetuating factors may exist in their daily lives. When it is clear that they need additional help, I direct them towards doctors, chiropractors, and physical therapists who I know will take the time to help them resolve their pain.

But what about the clients who truly have symptoms of fibromyalgia? Can massage therapy help? And, more importantly, what kind of massage therapy?

Fortunately, I met a Russian Massage teacher, the well known Zhenya Kurashova Wine. Russian massage, developed in the former Soviet Union, is supported by over 150 years of serious scientific research into the physiological effects of massage on the body. They can tell you, with evidence to support it, exactly how a particular stroke done in a particular manner will affect the physiology of the body.

I'd been taught to use deep tissue massage on clients with muscle pain but I quickly noticed this made clients with FM only worse. I'd started to lighten up but was afraid I wouldn't be effective. When I began to study with Zhenya, she taught me very specifically how to work with clients with fibromyalgia. As soon as I began to take her advice, I began to get much better results. And when my clients with fibromyalgia followed the suggested protocol, they reported a significant decrease in the severity of their symptoms and the frequency and intensity of flare-ups.

Tomorrow I'll describe the Russian Massage protocol for fibromyalgia and also mention some other conditions for which it has worked well.

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