Skip to main content


Log in

Massage therapy for fibromyalgia symptoms

  • Review
  • Published:
Rheumatology International Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Massage therapy is widely used by patients with fibromyalgia seeking symptom relief. We performed a review of all available studies with an emphasis on randomized controlled trials to determine whether massage therapy can be a viable treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms. Extensive narrative review. PubMed, PsychInfo, CINAHL, PEDro, ISI Web of Science, and Google Scholar databases (inception-December 2009) were searched for the key words “massage”, “massotherapy”, “self-massage”, “soft tissue manipulation”, “soft tissue mobilization”, “complementary medicine”, “fibromyalgia” “fibrositis”, and “myofascial pain”. No language restrictions were imposed. The reference lists of all articles retrieved in full were also searched. The effects of massage on fibromyalgia symptoms have been examined in two single-arm studies and six randomized controlled trials. All reviewed studies showed short-term benefits of massage, and only one single-arm study demonstrated long-term benefits. All reviewed studies had methodological problems. The existing literature provides modest support for use of massage therapy in treating fibromyalgia. Additional rigorous research is needed in order to establish massage therapy as a safe and effective intervention for fibromyalgia. In massage therapy of fibromyalgia, we suggest that massage will be painless, its intensity should be increased gradually from session to session, in accordance with patient’s symptoms; and the sessions should be performed at least 1–2 times a week.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Bennett R (1998) Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and myofascial pain. Curr Opin Rheumatol 10:95–103

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Clauw DJ (2001) Elusive syndromes: treating the biologic basis of fibromyalgia and related syndromes. Cleve Clin J Med 68(830):832–834

    Google Scholar 

  3. Mease P (2005) Fibromyalgia syndrome: review of clinical presentation, pathogenesis, outcome measures, and treatment. J Rheumatol Suppl 75:6–21. doi:03800903-75-6[pii]

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Berman BM, Swyers JP (1997) Establishing a research agenda for investigating alternative medical interventions for chronic pain. Prim Care 24:743–758

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Buchwald D, Garrity D (1994) Comparison of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and multiple chemical sensitivities. Arch Intern Med 154:2049–2053

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Wahner-Roedler DL, Elkin PL, Vincent A, Thompson JM, Oh TH, Loehrer LL, Mandrekar JN, Bauer BA (2005) Use of complementary and alternative medical therapies by patients referred to a fibromyalgia treatment program at a tertiary care center. Mayo Clin Proc 80:55–60

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Sunshine W, Field T, Quintino O, Fierro K, Kuhn C, Burman I, Schanberg S (1996) Fibromyalgia benefits from massage therapy and transcutaneous electrical stimulation. J Clin Rheumatol 2:18–22

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Field T, Diego M, Cullen C, Hernandez-Reif M, Sunshine W, Douglas S (2002) Fibromyalgia pain and substance P decrease and sleep improves after massage therapy. J Clin Rheumatol 8:72–76. doi:00124743-200204000-00002[pii]

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Richards KC (1998) Effect of a back massage and relaxation intervention on sleep in critically ill patients. Am J Crit Care 7:288–299

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Ejindu A (2007) The effects of foot and facial massage on sleep induction, blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate: crossover pilot study. Complem Ther Clin Pract 13:266–275. doi:S1744-3881(07)00030-8[pii]10.1016/j.ctcp.2007.03.008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hernandez-Reif M, Field T, Krasnegor J, Theakston H (2001) Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy. Int J Neurosci 106:131–145. doi:I148T009012[pii]

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Coelho HF, Boddy K, Ernst E (2008) Massage therapy for the treatment of depression: a systematic review. Int J Clin Pract 62:325–333. doi:IJCP1553[pii]10.1111/j.1742-1241.2007.01553.x

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Cherkin DC, Eisenberg D, Sherman KJ, Barlow W, Kaptchuk TJ, Street J, Deyo RA (2001) Randomized trial comparing traditional Chinese medical acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and self-care education for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med 161:1081–1088. doi:ioi00717[pii]

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Hsieh CY, Phillips RB, Adams AH, Pope MH (1992) Functional outcomes of low back pain: comparison of four treatment groups in a randomized controlled trial. J Manip Physiol Ther 15:4–9

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Preyde M (2000) Effectiveness of massage therapy for subacute low-back pain: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ 162:1815–1820

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Moyer CA, Rounds J, Hannum JW (2004) A meta-analysis of massage therapy research. Psychol Bull 130:3–18. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.1.32003-11000-001[pii]

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Asplund R (2003) Manual lymph drainage therapy using light massage for fibromyalgia sufferers: a pilot study. J Orthop Nurs 7:192–196

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Gordon C, Emiliozzi C, Zartarian M (2006) Use of a mechanical massage technique in the treatment of fibromyalgia: a preliminary study. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 87:145–147. doi:S0003-9993(05)01192-5[pii]10.1016/j.apmr.2005.08.125

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Burckhardt CS, Clark SR, Bennett RM (1991) The fibromyalgia impact questionnaire: development and validation. J Rheumatol 18:728–733

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Citak-Karakaya I, Akbayrak T, Demirturk F, Ekici G, Bakar Y (2006) Short and long-term results of connective tissue manipulation and combined ultrasound therapy in patients with fibromyalgia. J Manip Physiol Ther 29:524–528. doi:S0161-4754(06)00178-3[pii]10.1016/j.jmpt.2006.06.019

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Brattberg G (1999) Connective tissue massage in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Eur J Pain 3:235–244. doi:10.1053/eujp.1999.0123S1090-3801(99)90050-2[pii]

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Field T, Delage J, Hernandez-Reif M (2003) Movement and massage therapy reduce fibromyalgia pain. J Bodywork Mov Ther 7:49–52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Alnigenis M, Bradley JD, Wallick J, Emsley CL (2001) Massage therapy in the management of fibromyalgia: a pilot study. J Musculoskelet Pain 9:55–67

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Lund I, Lundeberg T, Carleson J, Sonnerfors H, Uhrlin B, Svensson E (2006) Corticotropin releasing factor in urine—a possible biochemical marker of fibromyalgia. Responses to massage and guided relaxation. Neurosci Lett 403:166–171. doi:S0304-3940(06)00429-0[pii]10.1016/j.neulet.2006.04.038

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Ekici G, Bakar Y, Akbayrak T, Yuksel I (2009) Comparison of manual lymph drainage therapy and connective tissue massage in women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Manip Physiol Ther 32:127–133. doi:S0161-4754(08)00352-7[pii]10.1016/j.jmpt.2008.12.001

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Pioro-Boisset M, Esdaile JM, Fitzcharles MA (1996) Alternative medicine use in fibromyalgia syndrome. Arthritis Care Res 9:13–17

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Barbour C (2000) Use of complementary and alternative treatments by individuals with fibromyalgia syndrome. J Am Acad Nurse Pract 12:311–316

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Weerapong P, Hume PA, Kolt GS (2005) The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports Med 35:235–256. doi:3534[pii]

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Danneskiold-Samsøe B, Christiansen E, Lund B, Andersen B (1982) Regional muscle tension and pain (“Fibrositis”). Scand J Rehabil Med 15:17–20

    Google Scholar 

  30. Goats GC, Keir KA (1991) Connective tissue massage. Br J Sports Med 25:131–133

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. McKechnie AA, Wilson F, Watson N, Scott D (1983) Anxiety states: a preliminary report on the value of connective tissue massage. J Psychosom Res 27:125–129. doi:0022-3999(83)90088-0[pii]

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Reed BV, Held JM (1988) Effects of sequential connective tissue massage on autonomic nervous system of middle-aged and elderly adults. Phys Ther 68:1231–1234

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Furlan AD, Imamura M, Dryden T, Irvin E (2008) Massage for low-back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev: CD001929. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001929.pub2

Download references

Conflict of interest statement

The author has no conflict of interest regarding the contents of this article.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Leonid Kalichman.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kalichman, L. Massage therapy for fibromyalgia symptoms. Rheumatol Int 30, 1151–1157 (2010).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: