Friday 16th September, 2022

How to massage fibromyalgia: practical science based advice

Fibromyalgia sufferer
In this article we will show you how to do safe, effective massage for fibromyalgia

Massage can give great relief for fibromyalgia, but while some massages work well others don’t, and there is always the potential for the wrong massage to hurt or cause your fibromyalgia to flare up. Also, scientific studies show that while individual massages can give temporary relief, to get long term improvement you need regular massages over time.

This means that you will need to be able to do at least some self massage, or it will become very expensive. In this article we will show you which massages work the best and how to do very effective self massage for fibromyalgia.

The way we will do this is to:

  1. look at what massage you need for fibromyalgia, and
  2. show you the practical way to do this

What massage you need for fibromyalgia

To get a good overview please check out our short video demonstration of massage for fibromyalgia.

To help work out the best massage for you we looked at i) the clinical trials, ii) other scientific information, and iii) the clinical considerations. For details on these please our article The best massage for fibromyalgia

In this section:

  • General considerations
  • Your best massage for fibromyalgia option

General considerations

Massages that target (myofascial) trigger points work best

Studies show that while general massage techniques can give some relief, techniques that target (myofascial) trigger points (tender lumps in your muscles) give better results. Scientists have found that these are the major cause of fibromyalgia, and treating these gives great relief. For more information please see this article.

Fibromyalgia sufferers are very sensitive, so start slowly and build up

Because fibromyalgia sufferers are highly sensitive so you need a technique that causes minimal pain, and start conservatively then increase as you become more tolerant. This is a big issue, because most massage techniques that target the important deep muscular issues use painful pressure.

You will need a very large number of treatments

All the clinical trials of massage for fibromyalgia we found bar one used from 10 to 30 applications, but still only gave incomplete relief. Also once the massages were stopped the symptoms gradually returned. This means you will need:

  • a large number of sessions of therapy, and
  • these will need to be continued indefinitely.

At each session there will be a large amount to be massaged

The muscular conditions that need massaging are usually widespread on your body, therefore fibromyalgia massages tends to be prolonged “whole body” massages.

It will be very expensive if you don’t include self massage

Because of 3 & 4 at least some therapy will need to be self therapy, or it will be extremely expensive and inconvenient.

Your best option: vibration massage

Vibration massage
Vibration massage is highly effective and the only massage that fits all the needs for fibromyalgia

Your best option is to use vibration massage. It is the only massage that fits these well. For those not familiar this is where vibrations are used to penetrate and have their therapeutic effects. There are very large advantages in using vibrations to penetrate rather than the physical pressure used in conventional massage.

  1. vibrations are shown to have excellent therapeutic benefits
  2. vibrations can penetrate much deeper and easily get to parts that cannot be reached with conventional massage.
  3. there is usually no pain,
  4. there is far less risk of causing any injury or damage, and
  5. you do not need any special skills- so it is very easy to do on yourself.

In the next section we will show you how to choose a vibration massager and how to use it to get the best results.

How to massage your fibromyalgia

In this section we will show you:
  1. how to choose a suitable massager, and
  2. how to apply the massage for the best effects.

How to choose a suitable massager for fibromyalgia

In this section we will outline what you need to look at when choosing a suitable vibration massager to treat fibromyalgia. We will then show the two DrGraeme massagers that are ideal. For more information please see our article How to choose a massager

What to look for in a massager

You will need a strongly built massager that gives professional standard therapeutic vibration massage. These are the main specifications and features you will need.

Vibration speed

You will need a massager that can deliver therapeutic vibrations from 30-50 hz (cycles per second). Speeds are often quoted as RPM, so this is 1,800-3,000 rpm.

Gimmick massager
A gimmick massager with multiple speeds and dangerous hard plastic heads (discussed later)
Gimmick warning

Please note that you will see machines with things like buttons, multiple speeds and led indicators. This is just pure gimmick and something that can easily fail. You are better off with a simple variable speed control like you would find on a quality power tool

Handle

Many of the areas you will need to massage are hard to reach, so you will need a massager with a proper ergonomically designed handle. You will not be able to reach these areas with a “Massage gun” shaped machine.

Heads

To transmit the therapeutic vibrations you need a comfortable flattish head. Manufacturers often include a variety of different heads, including shaped hard plastic ones that are designed to drive into the muscles rather than transmit vibrations. These are a gimmick, and the last thing you need with fibromyalgia.

Things to avoid

Percussion vs vibration massage
Percussion massagers (massage guns)

Most “vibrating” massagers sold nowadays are percussion massagers. As we discuss in our article Vibration vs percussion massage, these are designed to drive their heads in like jackhammers rather than to deliver therapeutic vibrations. That is why most come with the previously mentioned hard plastic heads. Think of percussion massagers as like meat tenderisers. They will give little therapeutic benefit, while creating a grave risk of causing pain or a flare up.

“Consumer grade” massagers

As UK researchers found (1)⁠ manufacturers of hand held massagers have a long history of concentrating on what their massagers look like on shop shelves rather than how they worked. Most of these machines are only marginally effective at best.

The ideal DrGraeme massagers for fibromyalgia

A few years ago with “consumer grade” massagers generally being so poor, and our patients needing an effective massager for use at home, we started building our own machines. Of course they have all of the desirable features mentioned above and none of the things we need to avoid. These are now used, recommended and sold by a wide range of professionals across many countries, or available from us directly. For details please see our get a massager page.

The General Purpose Massager
The General Purpose Massager is very easy to use and effective for treating fibromyalgia causing trigger points
The General Purpose Massager

We’ve had this machine for over a decade and it’s proved to be extremely effective, economical and reliable. The only shortfall is that you are limited to massaging the region under the single head. More information about the General Purpose Massager

The Ultimate Quad Head Massager
Our Ultimate Quad head Massager will treat several trigger points at once
The Ultimate Quad Head Massager

This machine has the same ergonomic shape and effectiveness as the General Purpose Massager, but has four heads so it can massage a much larger area. More information about the Ultimate Quad Head Massager

How to use your vibration massager for the best results

In this section:

  • General massage advice
  • Specific advice for fibromyalgia

General massage advice

Using a vibration massager
To use a vibration massager all you need to do is sit the massager and let the vibrations penetrate

Vibration massagers are extraordinary easy to use. We have complete details including precautions in our article How to use a massager However, basically all you need to do is to sit the head on the part to be massaged and let the vibrations penetrate. There is no need to press in or move the machine around like you would do with conventional massage.

Vibration massage usage advice
When you use your vibration massager don't be like a lumberjack swinging a chainsaw like an axe
Avoid conventional massage techniques

A lot of people use conventional massage techniques like pressing the head of the massager in and moving it around. As shown in this pic we liken this to a lumberjack using a chainsaw like an axe. We even see a lot of “professionals” demonstrate this way on YouTube videos. Ignore this ignorance.

Special recommendations for fibromyalgia

Get some professional advice

The musculoskeletal problems you will be massaging can be complex. Although you will be doing a lot of the massage yourself you need to get some professional advice. He or she can help determine what you need, help you find where to massage, and monitor to make sure you are doing it effectively. Please note that because of this everything in this article is general advice, to be discussed with a professional familiar with your own needs.

Start conservatively then slowly increase

Start very conservatively and gradually increase intensity as the condition improves. An effective treatment for fibromyalgia would be an application to each spot of 50 hz vibration for about 30 seconds. However, you might start with applications of about 30 hz for 10 seconds to just some parts of your body.

Further information

To help you get the best long term results we recommend that you read our article on how to treat trigger points at home

Professional at desk

Professionals

If you are a professional wishing to help your patients/clients with home trigger point therapy DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic for this purpose and are now used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.

Reference

  1. McDonagh D, Wilson L, Haslam C, Weightman D. Good vibrations: Do electrical therapeutic massagers work? Ergonomics. 2005;

We are continually adding more information on research and uses. Subscribe below to have us email them to you "hot off the press".

Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more



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