After receiving massage twice weekly for five weeks, fibromyalgia patients experienced improved mood and sleep, and their levels of substance P, a neurotransmitter in the pain fiber system, decreased, along with the number of tender spots throughout their bodies, according to recent research.

The study, “Fibromyalgia Pain and Substance P Decrease and Sleep Improves After Massage Therapy,” was conducted by Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Miguel Diego, Christy Cullen, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., William Sunshine and Steven Douglas of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia is defined as “widespread chronic musculoskeletal pain of unknown cause and multiple tender points.” Levels of substance P are significantly higher in people with fibromyalgia. Twenty-four adults with this condition were randomly assigned to either a massage-therapy or relaxation group.

Subjects in the massage group received 30-minute massages twice a week for five weeks. The sessions combined several types of bodywork, such as Swedish massage, shiatsu and Trager® work. The routine consisted of moderate pressure and stroking of the head, neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs and feet.

Participants in the relaxation-therapy group met for a half-hour twice weekly for five weeks and were given instructions on progressive muscle relaxation while lying quietly on the massage table.

The State Trait Anxiety Inventory was used before and after sessions on the first and last days of the study to measure how subjects felt at that time.

Both the massage and the relaxation group showed a decrease in anxiety and depressed mood immediately after sessions on the first and last days of this study.

More long-term effects were also evaluated. The Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale was used to measure depressive symptoms. Subjects wore a motion recorder at night to record activity during sleep and kept a log of the time they went to bed and awoke. A physician assessed participants’ illness, medication use, tender points and pain; and saliva samples were taken before the first and last sessions to measure levels of substance P.

The results revealed that, over the course of the study, the massage group, as compared with the relaxation group, experienced decreased depression; improved sleep; decreased pain, fatigue and stiffness; improved physician assessments; decreased tender points; and a reduced level of substance P.

According to the study’s authors, these findings “highlight the clinical significance of using massage therapy as a complementary treatment.”

Source: Touch Research Institute. Authors: Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Miguel Diego, Christy Cullen, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., William Sunshine and Steven Douglas. Originally published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, April 2002, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 72-76.