Fibromyalgia (FM) is characterized by widespread muscle pain and soft tissue tenderness. However, a lack of definitive muscle pathology has made FM both a diagnostic and a treatment puzzle. Much of the evidence for pathology in FM lies in the central nervous system - in particular abnormal amplification of pain signals in the spinal cord - a manifestation of central sensitization. An emerging body of evidence posits that peripheral pain generated from the muscles and fascia may trigger and maintain central sensitization in FM. Since FM patients so frequently seek manual therapy to relieve muscle symptoms, the present study compared two different manual therapy techniques in a parallel study of women with FM. Eight subjects received myofascial release (MFR) while four subjects received Swedish massage, 90 min weekly for four weeks. Overall symptom burden and physical function were assessed by the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire Revised (FIQ-R). A unique challenge for the manual therapist in treating conditions involving central sensitization is to determine if localized pain reduction can be achieved with targeted therapy in the context of ongoing widespread pain. Localized pain improvement was measured by a novel questionnaire developed for this study, the modified Nordic Musculoskeletal Questionnaire (NMQ). Between-group differences in FIQ-R did not reach statistical significance, but the total change scores on FIQ-R for the MFR group (mean = 10.14, SD = 16.2) trended in the hypothesized and positive direction compared to the Swedish massage group (mean = 0.33, SD = 4.93) yielding a positive Aikin separation test. Although overall modified NMQ scores improved in both groups there were no consistent focal areas of improvement for the Swedish massage group. In contrast, the MFR group reported consistent pain reductions in the neck and upper back regions on the NMQ. These data support the need for larger randomized controlled trials of MFR versus other massage techniques and support the assessment of localized pain reduction in future manual therapy studies in FM.
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