Massage Therapist, Cécile Dumont explains Fibromyalgia and the benefits of Myofascial Release!
Fibromyalgia (FMS) is an umbrella term used for a collection of physical, mental and emotional symptoms which include but are not limited to widespread pain in joints, muscles and soft tissues, fatigue, sleep disruption, digestive disorders, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, mood swings/irritability and depression. This syndrome evolves on a daily basis and its unpredictable nature makes it long and difficult to diagnose.
Fibromyalgia is charactersed by the sympathetic nervous system going into overdrive, a phenomenon referred to as Central Sensitisation (CS). What does this mean? That even though there is no actual injury or damage to the tissues, the nervous system stays in a constant state of Fight or Flight. The reactivity scale goes through the roof and the brain’s response blows out of proportion. There might not be a physical cause to the pain experienced by a patient but it is absolutely real for the body. And one of the direct consequences of CS is chronic muscular tension leading to pain and fatigue. This sometimes also leads to hypersensitivity to touch – during a flare up, the touch of a feather for example can be perceived as excruciating by some patients (a phenomenon called allodynia).
When dealing with such complex syndromes as FMS or chronic fatigue/myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), it is essential to bring the nervous system back to a calmer state, switching it from sympathetic (‘fight or flight’ mode) to parasympathetic (‘rest and digest’ mode). So when it comes to treating fibromyalgia and this hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system, LESS IS MORE. And this is where Myofascial Release (MFR) comes into play.
If a multidisciplinary approach and a network of care around the patient are essential when dealing with fibromyalgia, MFR has an important part to play in managing the symptoms day to day and in bringing emotional support - the power of touch and of a safe and caring environment should never be underestimated. Fibromyalgia can be very isolating and the person often disappears behind their symptoms in the eyes of the medical world. Body work in general but MFR in particular with the instinctive listening touch it offers can prove to be not only an ally to deal with the symptoms but a great way to recreate space for the person at the heart of it all.
MFR is a form of body work where the therapist doesn’t impose anything on the body but acts as a facilitator for it to release itself – through gentle sustained pressure into the tissues, the fascia progressively releases itself and the tissues regain more mobility, a phenomenon often accompanied by lesser pain, an improved range of movement and a deep sensation of relaxation. The fascia ‘melts’ from gel-like and restricted back to its more fluid nature (this 3D web of connective tissue is composed of elastin, collagen and grounding substance. It connects and interpenetrates every structure in the human body and solidifies as a reaction to physical and emotional trauma). It is interesting to underline here that fascia contains more nervous endings than muscles, making it it the main culprit for CS - as the latter is mainly triggered by an inflammation of the fascia - but paradoxically an essential ally in fighting the nervous wind up it generates.
It is recommended to keep treatments quite short (30 min of active release followed by more gentle techniques) and to keep the environment as neutral and comfortable as possible – unscented room, dim lights, blankets and pillows galore, etc. Everything should be aimed at soothing the Central Sensitisation and avoiding any unnecessary stimuli.
It is also essential to create a true connection and a relationship based on trust and comfort between client and therapist. The treatment room should be a safe space of understanding and nonjudgemental listening, a place of support in the difficult and challenging journey they embark on together.
MFR will not cure fibromyalgia but it helps lighten its burden and can prove a great source of progress, positivity and empowerment for the patient.