Complementary and alternative medicine is drawing more attention in the treatment of fibromyalgia. The increased popularity of CAM therapies among fibromyalgia patients is likely related to dissatisfaction with traditional medicine, a desire for a more holistic treatment approach, and the positive patient-doctor relationships frequently developed in CAM practices. While studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture for alleviating fibromyalgia symptoms, no studies have examined a specific massage therapy called Shiatsu in the treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS).
Developed in Japan, Shiatsu therapy combines elements of acupuncture/acupressure with Western massage techniques. Former studies have shown that Shiatsu can benefit patients with pain and sleep problems, two symptoms that are hallmarks of fibromyalgia, and researchers sought to conduct the first-ever pilot study of Shiatsu for FMS.
The study included 34 patients with FMS, between the ages of 33-62 years old, who were divided into a control group or a Shiatsu group. The treatment group received Shiatsu twice weekly for eight weeks. Researchers evaluated pain intensity on a visual analog scale, along with pain sensitivity with pressure pain tests. Patients also completed questionnaires assessing anxiety, sleep quality, and the overall impact of fibromyalgia symptoms.
After treatment, patients receiving Shiatsu had significant improvements in all variables except anxiety. Patients experienced a 40.6% decrease in pain intensity, a 76% improvement in pressure pain thresholds, 34% improvement in sleep quality, and a 22% improvement in scores of the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire. These results meant that 94% of patients reported being satisfied with Shiatsu treatment.
Like other forms of massage therapy, the pain-alleviating effects of Shiatsu are believed to be caused by muscle tension release, increased blood circulation promoting oxygenation of cells and tissue as well the removal of waste products, and the release of serotonin.
Although future studies are needed to confirm these results, the study suggests that Shiatsu presents a promising treatment option for patients with FMS searching for natural solutions. Even if you do not have access to Shiatsu in your hometown, you can still experience similar benefits by visiting your local massage therapist, acupuncturist, and chiropractor. Recent guidelines from the Canadian Medical Association recommend patients with fibromyalgia pursue natural treatments as part of multimodal strategy.
Yuan S, et al. Effects of shiatsu in the management of fibromyalgia symptoms: a controlled pilot study. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2013; 36 (7): 436-443.