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 to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Bennett R (1998) Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and myofascial pain. Curr Opin Rheumatol 10:95–103
Clauw DJ (2001) Elusive syndromes: treating the biologic basis of fibromyalgia and related syndromes. Cleve Clin J Med 68(830):832–834
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]
Berman BM, Swyers JP (1997) Establishing a research agenda for investigating alternative medical interventions for chronic pain. Prim Care 24:743–758
Buchwald D, Garrity D (1994) Comparison of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and multiple chemical sensitivities. Arch Intern Med 154:2049–2053
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
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
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]
Richards KC (1998) Effect of a back massage and relaxation intervention on sleep in critically ill patients. Am J Crit Care 7:288–299
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
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]
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
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]
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
Preyde M (2000) Effectiveness of massage therapy for subacute low-back pain: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ 162:1815–1820
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]
Asplund R (2003) Manual lymph drainage therapy using light massage for fibromyalgia sufferers: a pilot study. J Orthop Nurs 7:192–196
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
Burckhardt CS, Clark SR, Bennett RM (1991) The fibromyalgia impact questionnaire: development and validation. J Rheumatol 18:728–733
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
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]
Field T, Delage J, Hernandez-Reif M (2003) Movement and massage therapy reduce fibromyalgia pain. J Bodywork Mov Ther 7:49–52
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
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
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
Pioro-Boisset M, Esdaile JM, Fitzcharles MA (1996) Alternative medicine use in fibromyalgia syndrome. Arthritis Care Res 9:13–17
Barbour C (2000) Use of complementary and alternative treatments by individuals with fibromyalgia syndrome. J Am Acad Nurse Pract 12:311–316
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]
Danneskiold-Samsøe B, Christiansen E, Lund B, Andersen B (1982) Regional muscle tension and pain (“Fibrositis”). Scand J Rehabil Med 15:17–20
Goats GC, Keir KA (1991) Connective tissue massage. Br J Sports Med 25:131–133
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]
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
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
Conflict of interest statement
The author has no conflict of interest regarding the contents of this article.
About this article
Cite this article
Kalichman, L. Massage therapy for fibromyalgia symptoms. Rheumatol Int 30, 1151–1157 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00296-010-1409-2