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Adrienne Dellwo

Myofascial Release for Fibromyalgia Pain & Other Symptoms

By January 18, 2011

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Research Brief

A new study shows that a form of massage called myofascial release can improve pain and quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.

Myofascial release is a type of massage that uses techniques including sustained pressure and stretching of the muscles and connective tissues.

In the study, people with fibromyalgia got 20 weeks of myofascial release. Immediately after the last treatment and at a 1-month follow-up, participants (as compared to controls) reported improvement in these symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Sleep quality
  • Anxiety levels
  • Quality of life

At a 6-month follow-up, the only remaining improvement was in sleep, suggesting that on-going treatments may be necessary to maintain the benefit.

I have some personal experience with myofascial release, and it did work quite well for my pain. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to continue with the treatment because of insurance issues.

I do want to caution you, though -- if you have tactile or mechanical allodynia (sensitivity to touch), myofascial release may not be right for you. It's a deep form of massage, and I know I wouldn't have been able to tolerate it a couple of years ago when my allodynia was bad.

Have you had myofascial release? What was your experience with it? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo George Doyle/Getty Images

January 18, 2011 at 8:01 am
(1) Jo wood says:

I am in the middle of mfs release and u need to tolerate deep massage
so far headaches reduced. Thumbs up

January 18, 2011 at 9:19 am
(2) marie says:

I tried it also and it was helping, but also because my insurance wouldn’t cover it, I couldn’t continue.

January 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm
(3) Gloria says:

IF I had money I would do this I have had deep massage painful but worth it My chiropractor did ultrasound, pressure point and massage Was fantastic and kept me working until rotator cuff injury and loss of coverage from work and income so can’t afford it now. I believe that social activity and interaction helps to a point but when you are isolated due to financial circumstance you lose a lot! Friends don’t understand these melt down fogs either so you eventually just avoid the interaction so you don’t have to keep taking more further rejection and depression!!!! You just do the best and feel that iti s not but it is all you can do!!!

January 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm
(4) Ker Rusk says:

Yes, myofascial release and trigger point release deep massage therapy has helped me tremendously. I’ve had it weekly for over 10 years and regained a lot of function I had lost in my arms/hands due to a combination of nerve damage and FM. I was able to reduce my pain and muscle relaxant meds. by a huge amount.

It took months to build up the tolerance for the deep work. A good massage therapist can do this slowly. If they go too fast, it can backfire terribly. My tolerance is maintained for the most part, with weekly treatments. Sometimes it varies during a flare.

Unfortunately, my medical settlement (car accident) that was paying for this has now been spent and I’m trying to figure out alternative funding sources, but it isn’t going so well. It is heart-breaking to think of losing my functioning and quality of life again.

January 18, 2011 at 9:54 pm
(5) Jamie says:

I had it done recently and the lady that I used was very gentle but there were times when it did hurt but it didn’t last long. I did get relief but it was not long lasting. But I will also admit I didn’t rest like she told me to. I felt so good, I did WAY too much. I will be doing it again though.

January 18, 2011 at 11:57 pm
(6) Miss B says:

I have been fortunate enough to find someone who really knows what he’s doing and it has helped tremendously. I pay cash because my insurance doesn’t cover it and it is worth it! It doesn’t help with the fatigue or the burning-but boy does it help in the places I have specific ongoing pain (right shoulder and hip). If I could afford it, I’d go weekly, but as it is I stretch it out to every three weeks. One of the best tools in my fibro fighting kit.

January 19, 2011 at 1:19 am
(7) NanaMolly says:

I LOVE massage for FMS. The therapist even received the myofascial relaease training and I know it has done wonders. It is worth the money if insurance does not kick in. I am about to move and one of the things I’ll be looking for first is a new massage therapist!

January 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm
(8) Danya says:

I have the absolute best massage therapist who knows so much about fibromyalgia. I honestly do not know what I’d do without him. He doesn’t hurt me and he really works the muscles to keep them stretched, etc. He works on the muscles that contribute to the burning, tingling, numb areas and I can actually have feeling again for a couple of weeks afterwards. I would go every week if I could afford it. I get reimbursed from my flex benefit plan that I contribute to each pay period because my primary doctor writes a prescription saying they are necessary. That helps…using pre-tax dollars. Still expensive and insurance won’t cover it. But it truly is the only relief I get. I’ve tried about five massage therapist but he’s the only one that really provides the relief I need! He’s so great he’s hard to get an appointment with!

January 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm
(9) aidan walsh says:

i have never been helped by any type of massage therapy…the only things that have helped are low dose prednisone and water/salt… i believe very strongly that the muscle pain people experience is the muscles do not get enough oxygen and especially blood flow related to syncope or another term neurally mediated hypotension… very rare i have muscle pain and also rare i get headaches and i believe all of the above has helped me to get this much better and evryday i walk for miles…what i do not believe in are meds people take for pain and i now can recall that these meds always made my symptoms unbearable… i will continue for life on water/celtic sea salt and i believe in it more than anything out there…i now think all doctors should go back to school and retrain in the vital importance of the bodies needs for water/celtic sea salt… i have now only a few more months to go on prednisone and it will be the last med i ever take again, in fact i will stop seeing doctors completely…god bless all of you and get well…. http://www.watercure.com http://www.watercure2.org sincerely aidan walsh southampton, u.k.

January 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm
(10) Devin J. Starlanyl says:

The key to treating any illness, including FM, is to identify and treat the perpetuating factors. Myofascial release is an excellent therapy for myofascial tightness that often coexists with FM, but it is not part of FM. The myofascial tightness is part of chronic myofascial pain (CMP). Fibromyalgia is a central nervous system dysfunction with biochemical imbalances. Myofascial tightness is associated with myofascial trigger points, (Ge, HY) that often maintain FM, (Staud R) may be an initiating factor of FM in some cases (Gerwin R) and are always a perpetuating factor (but not the same) as FM. (Starlanyl, Copeland)

January 22, 2011 at 8:16 am
(11) Wendy says:

Myofascial release is wonderful. Hurts like crazy but when a knot releases all the pain goes away in a second.
When one of my trigger points releases, there seems to be a ripple of movement that flashes through my body and i flop around like a fish out of water…arms and legs flail every which way. I joke with my favorite massage therapost that she should wear shin guards so my flailing arms do not bruise her legs!

January 24, 2011 at 6:21 am
(12) Sharon Levin says:

Hoorah and Hello Devin! Below you will see my comments re yourself and Myofascial Pain and FM having been so privilaged to be ‘in your world’! Uncanny how few suffferers have read your amazing books or bothered or known to go to your research sites. Hope they will now and become educated and much improved in health! Sharon Levin. http://www.fibromyalgiasa.co.za +fmssha@ibi.co.za

January 21, 2011 at 5:37 pm
(13) Mary says:

There are different kinds of myofascial release. if you look for someone trained int he John Barnes method, it is usually much more gentle. Every therapist is different so some have gentler touches than others. Also sometimes you can find PTs who know the Barnes method and then you can get insurance to cover it. Otherwise you have to may out of pocket for a massage therapist. In my experience massage therapists do it much better. I have had pretty good luck with it. It keeps me off of pain meds. But lately I have switched to Cranial Sacral Therapy because that gives me more permanent relief and is much lighter touch than MFR. Its worth the price. (I have been denied insurance anyway because of the fibro diagnosis).

February 1, 2011 at 3:21 pm
(14) Devin J. Starlanyl says:

See if you can be assessed for myofascial trigger points. Some forms of myofascial therapy may then be covered by some insurance. At least you have a chance to document it and fight for your rights. We need to educate a lot of insurance companies. I’m working on that.

January 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm
(15) Pozitiv says:

Last July I commenced myofacial release massage (along with other techniques) on a weekly basis for 6 weeks, then fortnightly since. My therapist is an ex nurse with experience in dealing with pain in cancer patients and uses a combination of massage techniques. She believes I am suffering myofacial pain along with FMS.

The massage has been very successful in relieving pain and giving me back flexibility in my legs that I haven’t had in years. My therapist and has noticed a greater relaxation of the facia.

It was extremely painful to start with but has eased to being quite tolerable, even painless, now.

I will continue fortnightly treatments for maintenance as I believe this has been of great benefit to my well-being.

January 21, 2011 at 10:40 pm
(16) Barbara says:

Hooray. I’m so, glad you shared this wonderful treatment with other FMers. I have been going for MR for years now and it is the only massage I can bear. At first, The treatment were very painful, but I was determined to find something that worked. After 6 sessions, my body got accustomed to the stretching of the tissue. As someone mentioned, John Barnes method should be the MR used. It is very gentle and my therapist is wonderful and very educated in that method. I go once a month and have to pay for the MR on my own. I recently purchased a MR excercise book the you can use in between your sessions and they are helpful to keep the tissues released. Thanx for keeping everyone so informed!

January 22, 2011 at 12:48 am
(17) HypoGal says:

Deep massages help with my fibro but usually only very short term. If you live in Orange County Ca then my deep tissue $20.00 is an awesome find. Info can be found on my latest hypogal blog.

January 22, 2011 at 6:24 am
(18) hillwalker19 says:

I was unable to find a practitioner of MR near my home in the north of England, but happened instead upon the Bowen Technique.

This is a very (very!) gentle technique. I have no idea how it works. It appears to revolve around the brain’s ability to recognise ‘correct’ alignments of muscles etc. The effect on me was amazing, though I have since regressed a bit and will need to go back for a top-up session or two. (You don’t need more than a couple of sessions at a time.) One session I had involved moves to improve respiration, and after that I stopped suffering from the eternally blocked nose that has been the bain of my life!

I would recommend anyone with FM to try this. If nothing else, it is supremely relaxing!

January 22, 2011 at 11:48 am
(19) Sharon Levin says:

I am shocked that, since MFR called Trigger Point Release was researched and 1st point of pain release knowledge since 2000, that this is spoken of now as ‘new knowledge’! Old stuff. Dr Devin Sarlynyl’s 1st book entitled Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofacial Pain explains it implicitly for all unfamiliar with the book. TRAVEL and SIMONS in 1970′s -scientists 1st taught about this! Today, we have added to TrP therapy, by physiatrist trained post grad, also Feldenkrais, Bowen, Myofascial Chiro’s, Myofascial Cranio Sacral therapists, all knowing about Trigger point release and effecting great relief for all who seek them out. Get reading, please America! If I am in South Africa and am a researcher, practitioner, etal, much harder for me to have without even a computer in the 1990′s, to make myself knowledgeable whilst getting better and remaining, thatks to many trained people or not, who helped me stay well for 18 yrs in remission, even tho’ I still have a form of insomnia, am still liable if I do not ‘walk my walk’ and ‘talk my talk’ etc, to go return to active FM, CFS whatever, I teach and educate what to do in rooms filled with’tools’ for all to take up and use. Anyone can get better if they really want to believe and succeed. Without any ego. Just the facts to go after and find out-of the-box- help! Sharon Levin. http://www.fibromyalgiasa.co.za (I was my own VICTIM for 23 yrs-NEVER AGAIN)

January 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm
(20) Gail says:

I LOVED myofascial release when I had it. It is the only type of bodywork that has really made a difference. Unfortunately, like others, insurance issues have forced me to quit these treatments. I can’t find anyone who does this outside of a physical therapy office.

January 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm
(21) marion collom says:

I am a massage therapist and instructor of massage as well as having lived with many of the difficulties of Fibromyalgia for about twenty years now.

When you FIRST visit a MT for treatment, it is imperative they take a formal “intake” and ask all about the various symptoms you are suffering from, as well as medications, other illnesses, limitations, sensitivities (allodynia), etc. If not, DO NOT USE THIS THERAPIST. They know nothing about FMS.

To treat FMS you must start out with the gentlest of treatments, such as working on a frail or elderly person with soothing effleurage strokes, and slowly work your way up so that the person can tolerate a full medical massage, which is somewhat more intense in pressure.

Only after all of this is accomplished (which can take from 6 to 12 treatments or maybe never), then you can begin with mild myofascial stretching. It is deep work, but it should never ever be painful, either during the massage or afterwards. Therapists oftentimes use their forearms for extra strength while doing myofascial stretching, which is fine for a normal population, but if you have FMS it needs to be done in “baby steps”. If not, and your brain’s perception of the massage is one of pain, your body is going to tense up (known as the “pain or gate control theory”) and you will end up with a lower threshold for pain rather than a higher one.

In my opinion, the long term purpose of massage therapy is not only to feel looser, less tense, etc., but also to raise your brain’s threshold to pain, so that the sensation someone else doesn’t perceive as pain but you do…..the gap is slowly bridged and reduced.

I hope this helps even one person who reads it. My recommendation for finding a speccialist in Fibromyalgia is to contact the listings of the two major insurance companies on the internet. One is the AMTA and the other is the AMBP. Or, call a local massage school and ask for a recommendation.

January 23, 2011 at 10:53 pm
(22) Gerri says:

I have been seeing a Chiropractor and Massage Therapist for 5 years. At first the massages were so terribly painful AFTER – the next day I would nearly be in bed all day. For the past several years I’ve had a different Therapist and she has helped me SOOOO much!! It is not a lasting help, but it does help for several days.

My insurance pays for both of these treatments together. I have a co-pay. I’m sure that it is something that the Dr. has learned about the insurance that enables me to still be treated. I have to fill out a “pain” sheet before each sessionn. I go every other week.
I only get massaged from the waist up. I have an artificial hip and two bum knees.
I wish that everyone could visit a chiropractor and massage therapist. Along with heat and muscle rub, that is my treatment the natural way —– with muscle relaxers and Lortab to help .:)


January 26, 2011 at 9:32 am
(23) kimber says:

I have been trying this for a few months, I was getting chronic muscle knots in my shoulders and I couldn’t lift my arm past shoulder level. Yes, very painful but I get relief from the knots for at least a week. I was going once a week for a while, now I am going to try maintaining at once a month. I see a therapist who works in a physical therapy office, it’s $55 for an hour which is a lot less expensive than the salon where I first tried it, $60 for half an hour there! I am starting Cymbalta and I am feeling so far like it helps a bit to keep the knots at bay.

January 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm
(24) Julie Merkl says:

Im very happy to see this discussion regarding MFR! Im a PT in the Portland OR exclusively practicing John F Barnes (JFB) MFR. I recently began working more closely with a fantastic fibromyalgia specialist here (www.fridacenter.com). She is a huge believer in JFB-MFR, and I just wanted to reiterate that the Barnes method is a very different animal than the regular old MFR that many massage therapists learn in school. Ive been training with John for about 6 years, and have taken 10-11 seminars. This is not something you get over a weekend! I explain this not to toot my own horn but so you understand the depth and specificity of training that is required to deliver authentic JFB-MFR.
Not that MFR will NEVER be painful, but it is not something you should “tolerate” or “get through”. You should be working and communicating very closely with your therapist regarding what you are feeling throughout treatment. Anything that causes you to tense or guard is counterproductive.
To find a JFB-MFR therapist near you, try John Barnes’ website (www.myofascialrelease.com), look under “find a therapist”, and type in your state. Many therapists dont choose to list there, so if you dont find anyone, the next best thing is to log onto the chatline, also accessible from the website, and request a therapist in your area. Also, dont worry about the educational designation (MT, PT, OT, etc). Finding the right fit is more about the person themself and their training with John than what they took in school!
Good luck on your healing journey!!
Julie Merkl, PT

February 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm
(25) Jan says:

I just had my first myofascial release treatment at a John Barnes center a few days ago. It is expensive and a long car trip away. I have also read through the Clair Davies book on self treatment.

Devin, if you are still following this thread, I want you to know that I first learned about myofascial trigger points through one of your books that was recommended at a support group. Thank you for everything you do.

I have a question: how do you know which method(s) of myofascial release are good and which are not? Is the Barnes method good?

I am a RN and my husband is a PA-C. He recently received a pamphlet in the mail for a continuing education course titled “Contemporary Issues in Internal Medicine” sponsored by Geisinger in Pennsylvania. One of the topics in the program is Myofascial Pain Syndromes by Dr. Lentz. Anyone familiar with him?

July 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm
(26) Mike says:

As both a massage therapist and athletic therapist I have used myofascial release techniques in treating both weekend warriors and office athletes who have fibromyalgia.

Each patient is treated differently according to their needs and what their body is able to handle.

Some patients prefer the more indirect method of treatment which is very gentle in nature. Others like the more direct method which can be more aggressive in nature.

The key is to find a practitioner that you have a trust and comfort level with.

The last I checked there were at least five versions of myofascial release.

Visit http://www.rmt-ceus.com/myolage-tmto video clips of different types of myofascial release.

May 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm
(27) Cynthia DeRoche says:

As a massage therapist, I can definitely recommend myofascial release. For my fibro patients who can’t tolerate deep work, indirect techniques are very helpful too, but require a little more patience. It’s gentle and effective.

September 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm
(28) Deborah says:

I suffer from fibromyalgia since 1999. Two years ago when a friend of mine returned from his very first JFB MFR 10 day seminar series and he explained about the 2000 lbs per sq. in. that restricted fascia exerts I knew this described me to a T. We began an intensive program right away…I believe I started out with 9 days strait with 2-hr sessions each day. I hated it but I didn’t care…I so wanted to be well. I continued this with about two 2-hr sessions a week for two years. I took breaks when I just couldn’t face another session of me writhing in pain screaming at the top of my lungs, crying my eyes out. He was very encouraging telling me to scream louder. He always praised me for such courage and bravery. He also believed in me and constantly encouraged me to go get the JFB MFR training. Before I left to go get training, I had scheduled 3 sessions. I didn’t want him to know what a coward I really am, so for the last session I asked him to do a Marma treatment instead, because it is so subtle and non-invasive. Being the coward that I am I couldn’t face him at all upon my return from the training. My whole body and psyche were screaming “NOOOOOOOOOO”. So I did another cowardly thing…I left a short hand written note on his door saying that I felt traumatized and tortured and couldn’t bear the idea of his putting his hands on me. He was not very understanding, so I blew that friendship as well. I was limping along making slow but steady progress. After the seminar I rocketed forward in my gains…that is until I arrived home and considered another session. I wish I had handled it all differently. John Barnes says it is fairly common for both therapists and clients to believe that they must go through a lot of pain in order to get well. It is a false belief. It has been difficult to process all of this, especially the loss of the friendship. I was so happy to read what Marion Collom has to say as well as other entries here.

March 1, 2014 at 5:01 am
(29) Florence says:

I have Fibro., Sjogrens, severe neck, back & hip injuries from multiple MVA’s. I get this type of body work done in combination with connective tissue massage, integrated by one therapist, every 1-2 weeks. I couldn’t live without it. Yes it’s painful, but worth it. It gets me through the week. My therapist is willing to work with ppl on a fixed income. There are many providers willing to give discount services for guaranteed weekly or biweekly sessions. She agrees to $40 per hour if I come weekly, or at least every other week. Try paying an add on Craigslist to find a therapist willing to work with you. Explain your situation. Many therapist’s joined the field because of their deep passion to truly help ppl & to help decrease pain in the lives of others. Contact local practitioners, chiropractors, physical therapists & SPA’s.. Put up fliers at the grocery store & local coffee shop. Stay positive, pray, and spread the word that you’re in need of discounted services. Put in the legwork & you can find someone affordable. Sometimes you might even beable to barter services too….. I wouldn’t be able to function at the extent I do without the consistent body work I get so it’s worth the investment! Good luck!

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