Massage, Rolfing, and Other Bodywork for Fibromyalgia

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Will treatments like massage, Rolfing, the Bowen Technique, and Reiki help you with fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) symptoms? That all depends both on the form of bodywork as well as your specific symptoms.

These kinds of treatments are called bodywork, as are any therapeutic or healing methods that involve touching or physical manipulation.

Healthcare providers usually recommend bodywork as a complementary treatment, not as the only treatment. While you may want to try alternative treatments your healthcare provider doesn't recommend or endorse, you should include him/her in your decisions and report back to your healthcare provider on your experience with the treatment.

Young woman enjoying therapeutic neck massage in spa
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Massage Therapy

First, you need to understand the difference between Swedish massage, which is primarily for relaxation, and therapeutic massage, which is aimed at helping the body function better. A clinical massage therapist uses techniques such as myofascial release and neuromuscular therapy to get muscles and connective tissues to relax and function properly.

Research shows therapeutic massage can help people with FMS or ME/CFS if it's the correct type of massage for the specific symptoms.

Make sure you're going to a licensed massage therapist (LMT) and be sure to discuss any other pain conditions or health problems you have.

For Fibromyalgia

Because FMS causes pain and makes your body extremely sensitive to touch and pressure, you probably won't be able to tolerate any kind of deep-tissue massage. Open lines of communication are vital when it comes to how much pressure a therapist can put on your muscles. Make sure your massage therapist is familiar with the gentle touch required for treating FMS or is willing to do some research on it.

After a massage, you're likely to feel more relaxed and get a better night's sleep, which in turn can help alleviate your symptoms.

For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Studies show gentle massage helps lower anxiety and improve sleep in people with ME/CFS. As with FMS, it's important to have a knowledgeable therapist and to talk about how much pressure you can tolerate.

Rolfing

Rolfing is a form of deep-tissue work with the goal of bringing segments of the body into proper alignment. It's based on the belief that the fascia (fibrous connective tissue that covers muscles and runs throughout the entire body) can get stiff, shortens and becomes less elastic, and thereby lead to a lot of musculoskeletal problems.

For Fibromyalgia

Rolfing generally involves high amounts of pressure and very deep tissue work, so while some healthcare providers may claim it's beneficial for fibromyalgia, most experts agree that this kind of bodywork will cause huge amounts of pain for people with FMS.

For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Some scientific studies show Rolfing can improve the symptoms of ME/CFS, but not enough to prove conclusively that it will help you. Be sure to consider your pain levels and how much your tissues can tolerate before you try Rolfing.

Bowen Technique

The Bowen Technique involves gentle rolling techniques that healthcare providers say send impulses to the brain and nervous system that alleviate pain, help relax your muscles, restore normal movement to joints and connective tissues and increase blood flow. The underlying theory is similar to acupuncture, and several Bowen moves involve acupuncture meridians and acupuncture points that are believed to bring your body's energy in balance. When the treatment is effective, relief is often immediate.

For Fibromyalgia

In a study conducted by the American College of Rheumatology, almost all FMS participants had some relief, which lasted from a few days to several weeks. After several sessions, a few people reported a complete remission of FMS symptoms. Benefits can include better sleep, less neck pain, better balance, and less dizziness.

For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

So far, the Bowen Technique hasn't been studied as a treatment for ME/CFS, but at least one study is pending. In case reports from some healthcare providers, people praise Bowen as an ME/CFS treatment, but healthcare providers don't generally report negative experiences, if any, that some patients may have. Because Bowen is typically a gentle and safe form of therapy, it won't likely have a negative impact on your health. The questions, then, are whether it's something on which you want to spend your time and money.

Reiki

Reiki (pronounced ray-key) is a Japanese technique based on the belief that spiritual energy, properly channeled, can heal the physical body. It can be done through light touch or even at a distance. Reiki is most often used for stress reduction and relaxation but also has many other applications.

Healthcare providers say it can help with pain, sleep, muscle tension, anxiety, depression, circulation, and poor immune function. Some healthcare providers recommend against using Reiki on anyone with a psychological disorder.

For Fibromyalgia

Researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, published in the Fall of 2008, studied Reiki as a fibromyalgia treatment and found it was not effective at reducing symptoms, using either touch or distance methods. The researchers recommend more research before Reiki is recommended as a fibromyalgia treatment.

For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

We don't yet have any research on Reiki for chronic fatigue syndrome. Some healthcare providers and patients say they've seen results from Reiki for both conditions. As with Bowen treatments, risk is low but price is something you'll want to consider before trying it.

A Word From Verywell

With any treatment, it pays to keep a close eye on how your body responds. If you consistently have a symptom flare a day or two after a treatment, you may need to re-evaluate its effectiveness for you or talk to your healthcare provider about different techniques, including a lighter touch.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between massage and bodywork?

    The term bodywork refers to therapeutic techniques that involve physical touch, breathwork, or energy medicine. Massage is a form of bodywork. 

  • What is a deep-tissue massage?

    Deep-tissue massage is a massage technique that uses slow deep strokes to apply sustained pressure. This targets the inner layers of muscles and connective tissue, drawing healing blood to the area and helping to break up scar tissue from injuries or stress. 

  • Is deep tissue massage good for people with fibromyalgia?

    Not typically. People with fibromyalgia are more sensitive to touch and will likely find the pressure from a deep-tissue massage too painful.

  • What type of massage or bodywork helps people with fibromyalgia?

    The Bowen technique, a gentle touch therapy that uses a rolling-type movement of thumbs and fingers, may be helpful for people with fibromyalgia. The method is designed to stimulate nerve pathways and create a “conversation” between different parts of the nervous system.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Assefi N, Bogart A, Goldberg J, Buchwald D. Reiki for the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Nov;14(9):1115-22. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0068

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