Among people diagnosed with fibromyalgia, myofascial release techniques improved pain and quality life, according to recent research.

The study, “Benefits of Massage-Myofascial Release Therapy on Pain, Anxiety, Quality of Sleep, Depression, and Quality of life in Patients with Fibromyalgia,” involved 59 people with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, according to the criteria of the American College of Rheumatology. In order to participate in the study, subjects had to be between the ages of 18 and 65, with no regular physical activity.

Researchers randomly assigned these participants to either the intervention group or the placebo group. The study period lasted 20 weeks for both groups. In the placebo group, subjects received a 30-minute weekly sham treatment, using a disconnected magnotherapy device. With the participant in a prone position, the sham magnotherapy was applied on the cervical and lumbar areas for 15 minutes each.

In the intervention group, subjects received a 90-minute weekly session of myofascial release, aiming to release myofascial restrictions at the sites of the 18 painful points typically involved in fibromyalgia, as described by the American College of Rheumatology.

According to researchers, the weekly protocol involved “myofascial release at insertion of the temporal muscle, release of falx cerebri by frontal lift, release of tentorium cerebelli by synchronization of temporals, assisted release of cervical fascia, release of anterior thoracic wall, release of pectoral region, lumbosacral decompression, release of gluteal fascia, transversal sliding of wrist flexors and fingers, and release of quadriceps fascia.”

Outcome measures for the study were pain, anxiety, depression, quality of sleep and quality of life. These were evaluated in all subjects before the start of the study, immediately after week 20 of the study period, one month later and again six months later.

Immediately after the 20-week study period, the myofascial release group showed significant improvements in pain, as compared to both baseline and the placebo group. This group also showed significant reductions in sensitive points at lower left cervicals, right gluteal muscle, left gluteal muscle and right greater trochanter. No such changes were observed in the placebo group.

Subjects in the myofascial release group also showed a significant improvement in trait anxiety immediately after the 20-week study period, as compared to both baseline and the placebo group. The massage group showed significant improvements in physical function and quality of sleep as well.

One month later, the subjects who received myofascial release still showed significant improvements of several of the outcome measures, including pain, trait anxiety, physical function, sleep duration and reduction of sensitive points at left lower cervicals, right gluteal muscle and right greater trochanter.

Six months after the intervention, the participants who received weekly myofascial release still exhibited significant improvements in two areas: sleep duration and reduction in sensitivity for a tender point at the right greater trochanter. No changes were found in the placebo group.

“This study demonstrated that massage-myofascial release therapy reduces the sensitivity to pain at tender points in patients with fibromyalgia, improving their pain perception,” state the study’s authors. “Release of fascial restrictions in these patients also reduces anxiety levels and improves sleep quality, physical function, and physical role.

“Massage-myofascial program,” they conclude, “can be considered as an alternative and complementary therapy that can achieve transient improvements in the symptoms of these patients.”

Authors: Adelaida María Castro-Sánchez, Guillermo A. Matarán-Peñarrocha, José Granero-Molina, Gabriel Aguilera-Manrique, José Manuel Quesada-Rubio and Carmen Moreno-Lorenzo.

Sources: Department of Nursing and Physical Therapy, University of Almería, Spain; Health District of La Vega-Andalusian, Health Public Service, Málaga, Spain; Department of Statistics and Department of Physical Therapy, University of Granada, Spain. Originally published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2011).