Russian Massage Protocol for Fibromyalgia

Russian Massage is unique in that it is a system of massage entirely based on physiology. Developed in the former Soviet Union as a medical massage, sports massage, and part of their physical therapy, it is supported by over 150 years of serious scientific research. What this means is that they have investigated the various strokes and examined exactly what physiological changes each of these strokes, when done in various ways, produces in the body.

In Russian Massage, the approach taken towards fibromyalgia is to calm the central nervous system (CNS). The idea is that when the central nervous system is normalized, everything in the body functions better. This systemic approach is also used for chronic fatigue syndrome; I have also used it successfully on a client with sarcoidosis.

Russian researchers have found that the central nervous system responds best to shorter and more frequent treatments. Too long of a treatment can backfire and too infrequent is ineffective. The more severe the symptoms of fibromylagia, the shorter and more frequent the treatments should be. They have also found that the CNS responds best to regularity and so, ideally, the treatments are best given at evenly spaced intervals, preferably at the same time of the day.

Since the goal is to soothe the CNS, Russian Massage for fibromyalgia uses only very soothing strokes. Continuous effleurage and vibration on the back and the back of the legs is done for twenty to thirty minutes. This gentle, rhythmic treatment is very relaxing and causes absolutely no pain to the client. The client enters a deep state of relaxation and, since the treatment is relatively short, rises relaxed but regains alertness quickly.

Treatment sessions are usually 20 to 30 minutes each, twice a week. If the client is particularly flared up, treatments are shortened to no more than 20 minutes and increased to three times a week. Treatments are repeated for 12 to 15 sessions and then interrupted for two weeks. This repetition followed by an interruption in treatment allows the body to become accustomed to being more relaxed but not dependent on the treatments. It also prevents the body from becoming so accustomed to the treatments that it no longer responds to them.

In many cases, if the client is taking sufficient care of themselves outside of the treatments, they will start to experience a reduction in the severity of their symptoms within four or five treatments. Significant reductions in symptoms are often experienced by the end of the 12 - 15 treatments. If further progress is desired, another cycle of treatments may resume after the two week break. This cycle of 12 to 15 treatments with a two week break may be repeated as often as necessary until the desired results are achieved. As symptoms are reduced and the client begins to feel better, treatments should be tapered off. Intervals between treatments may be increased. Eventually, treatments can be reduced to once a month to help maintain improvement. At the first sign of flare-up, the client should resume more frequent treatments. If this is done before symptoms have seriously increased, return to a more normal state is often achieved more quickly.

Outside of the massage treatments, it is imperative that the client do everything they can to support their physical and mental health. A relatively healthy diet is a must. Alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine should be kept to a minimum. Clients must maintain regular sleep habits and get adequate sleep. Unnecessary stress needs to be reduced or eliminated. Exercise is important. It is often recommended that patients with fibromyalgia exercise three times a week. However, one doctor has found that his patients who exercise every day get the best results and if they miss even one day, they feel worse for the next two or three days. It is not necessary to exercise the painful muscles to benefit. The effects seem to come from the overall hormonal effects of the exercise.

Over the years, almost every one of my clients with fibromyalgia who has followed this protocol has reported good to excellent improvement. The exceptions have had complications from other conditions.

As with any medical condition, massage therapy is not a substitute for proper medical attention. Massage therapy, however, can support other therapies and be a powerful adjunct.

One client, whose symptoms had gotten severe enough that she did not think she could continue working, told me after two months of treatment, "This has allowed me to stay in my job."

I firmly believe, based on my own experience and validated by investigations at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, that the right kind of massage therapy could provide safe, natural relief to many who suffer from fibromyalgia. It is certainly worth giving it a try.