People with fibromyalgia who received 16 sessions of full-body shiatsu over the course of eight weeks experienced statistically significant improvements in pain intensity, pressure pain threshold, sleep quality and the impact of fibromyalgia symptoms on their overall health, according to recent research.

The study, “Effects of Shiatsu in the Management of Fibromyalgia Symptoms: A Controlled Pilot Study,” involved 34 subjects, ages 33 to 62, who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. These subjects were divided into either the control group or shiatsu group.

Participants in the control group received an educational booklet on the first day of the eight-week study. This booklet contained information about fibromyalgia and ways to manage the condition, along with instructions for a stretching exercise program.

Subjects in the shiatsu group each received a 40-minute, full-body shiatsu session twice a week for eight weeks, for a total of 16 sessions. A physical therapist trained in shiatsu performed all the sessions, applying pressure with the hands and fingers according to each subject’s feedback.

According to the researchers, the pressure applied was as much as each subject could tolerate without feeling uncomfortably painful, and the sessions addressed all of the C body’s main meridians in different positions.

“Simultaneously, the meridians and acupuncture points were evaluated by touch and classified according to the level of pressure needed to evoke pain,” state the study’s authors. “The point is more compromised when less pressure is needed.”

Each shiatsu session closed with two minutes of sustained pressure on the subject’s five most painful points.

Outcome measures for this study included pain intensity, measured on a visual analog scale, along with pressure pain threshold, measured by dolorimetry. Anxiety was evaluated on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and sleep was assessed using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. The impact of the fibromyalgia symptoms on each subject’s health was measured using the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire.

These outcomes were assessed at baseline, before the start of the study, and then again at the end of the eight-week intervention or control period. Results of the research revealed significant improvements among the subjects in the shiatsu group on all of the outcome measures except for anxiety.

“In [traditional Chinese medicine], pain is one of the signs of excess energy in areas where the flow of the vital energy is blocked along the meridian,” state the study’s authors. “In the present study, the improvement of pain with shiatsu may be caused by the unblocking of the flow of vital energy by pressure stimulation of the meridians and their points, contributing to restore the energy balance of the patient, according to the principles of acupuncture.”

Authors: Susan L.K. Yuan, Ana A. Berssaneti and Amelia P. Marques.

Source: Department of Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy, School of Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Originally published in September 2013 in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.

This research report ran in the print edition of MASSAGE Magazine‘s October 2013 issue.