This systematic review sought to evaluate the effectiveness of massage in fibromyalgia. An electronic search was conducted at MEDLINE, SCiELO, EMBASE, ISI, PEDro, SPORTDiscus, CINAHL, Cochrane CENTRAL and LILACS (Jan 1990–May 2013). Ten randomized and non-randomized controlled trials investigating the effects of massage alone on symptoms and health-related quality of life of adult patients with fibromyalgia were included. Two reviewers independently screened records, examined full-text reports for compliance with the eligibility criteria, and extracted data. Meta-analysis (pooled from 145 participants) shows that myofascial release had large, positive effects on pain and medium effects on anxiety and depression at the end of treatment, in comparison to placebo; effects on pain and depression were maintained in the medium and short term, respectively. Narrative analysis suggests that: myofascial release also improves fatigue, stiffness and quality of life; connective tissue massage improves depression and quality of life; manual lymphatic drainage is superior to connective tissue massage regarding stiffness, depression and quality of life; Shiatsu improves pain, pressure pain threshold, fatigue, sleep and quality of life; and Swedish massage failed to improve outcomes. There is moderate evidence that myofascial release is beneficial for fibromyalgia symptoms. Limited evidence supports the application of connective tissue massage and Shiatsu. Manual lymphatic drainage could be superior to connective tissue massage, and Swedish massage might not have any effects.
Overall, most styles of massage therapy consistently improved the quality of life for individuals with fibromyalgia.