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Deep Massage Improves Balance (Plus Natelson and Rolfing!)


Phoenix Rising Founder
One of the reasons Dr. Natelson believes CFS is a neurological disease is that team often finds patients have troubles with balance. it might not be that they are falling over all the time but they fail specific balance tests. Some people might be aware of Dr. Cheney's findings that patients cannot maintain what's called, I think, the Rhomberg test. (Stand feet together arms straight out at your sides at shoulder height and close your eyes and see if you can stay standing without swaying.


Even I failed that one. Natelson had ME/CFS patients undergo ' deep fiber muscular' size and tested their balance on a computerized platform. He found that their balance improved.

Why? It could be that muscle tightness interfered with the brains control of balance - basically the muscles were too tightened down for the brain to manage them effectively with regards to balance.

Dr. Natelson noted that he was currently applying for a federal grant to assess the effectiveness of Rolfing (!) on fatigue and pain. (I don't think it went through unfortunately).


Still working on it all..
Melbourne, Australia
I guess it makes some sense that a good massage may be able to help with balance. If the muscles are stiff it's harder to maintain balance.

In the first year or two I did feel my balance was noticeably poorer and I attributed it to the Orthostatic Intolerance and perhaps the neurological balance problem stemmed from there.
After about 3-4 years the OI significantly improved and so has my balance.


Senior Member
Victoria, BC
balancing act

I too have some awareness of instability--in the morning I go for a short (15 min) walk, and am able to go at a fair speed, without deviating much from a straight line; as the day wears on, I notice I am walking more like a duck (as Jody put it in a post), keeping my feet a bit apart. In the evening I sometimes feel quite unstable--have not fallen, but sometimes feel as if I might. But is this a primary neurological problem, or autonomic nervous system stuff triggered by heart problems, as Cheney might suggest? I had low heart output (due to a belatedly recognized severely stenotic aortic valve) for quite a while before developing CFS, and probably began an unrecognized diastolic cardiomyopathy at that time, with orthostatic intolerance, dry eyes, etc. as sudden symptoms. I seem to be a classic Cheney type CFSer, and wonder a bit about where my CFS began (two years after apparently successful surgery). The heart is closely connected with the autonomic nervous system, and can produce all kinds of symptoms. Chris


Senior Member
Melbourne, Australia

Not just a good massage helps muscles & balance.

Prior to 3 slipped lumbar discs in Sept 2005, I not only power walked every weekday, but did something like 30mins stretching, toning & back exercises every morning (& maybe 50-60 minutes at weekends).

Not only was I well toned & flexible (despite being overweight), but I believe my balance and strength was excellent. I could bend over & put my hands flat on the floor very easily(with both legs together). I could push/pull, stretch, twist, do anything.

My balance was perfect. I could stand on one leg & easily lift the other one high without hanging onto anything (one of my exercises). And more importantly I could stand on one leg for some time.

I could stand on tiptoes (which was actually one of my daily exercises) & stand high for a length of time also.

I walked down the street briskly with my head held high. I walked straight & felt secure & confident in my steps.

(gee, at one stage I was training to do an introductory trek in Nepal & fulfil one of my dreams).

Since slipped discs & back surgery, I can do nothing.

If anyone read one of my other posts when I talked about flexing muscles to form good muscle tone (instead of attempting aerobic exercise, gym or weights etc), then I will mention again that muscle tone & balance (which we are talking about in this post) can be gained by the smallest muscle flexing imaginable.

I remember the balance particularly. Having strong foot, ankle, leg, thigh & hip muscles really do make a difference to the way you stand, walk & your mental confidence. Well toned muscles support you physically - but I believe they support you mentally also.

And why don't I do some of these exercises now?

Well, I just plain have trouble getting out of bed in the morning & doing any moving (until I've had a soak in a hot bath to relax my muscles & ease the stiffness & pain).

I'm always running late for work, too.

I just plain forget.

I tried setting my alarm earlier, but it's just too much effort - I hate getting out of bed these days.

And yes, soft tissue massage or lymphatic drainage massage (as I was taught when studying Aromatherapy) is brilliant. Forget the deep tissue stuff by a sport masseur. I had a couple of deep tissue back massages way back in 1998 (when I was attending Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre re my ankle surgery) - I yelled my loudest & swore once the Masseur start really getting into those deep muscles.

And walking home from work today, I wil be tired & possibly swaying with fatigue. I have often walked like a duck or staggered as if drunk, but I put most of it down to hip & lower back pain or the "drunken" stagger to food intolerance.

But I have often counteracted this with some walking meditation.

And Cort,

failing a balance test could also be just lack of muscle tone? Moving "mindfully" might help here.



Phoenix Rising Founder
Could it be that the balance problems are neurological? And can they be retrained by mindfulness type exercises? Perhaps so. I really liked this from Victoria

If anyone read one of my other posts when I talked about flexing muscles to form good muscle tone (instead of attempting aerobic exercise, gym or weights etc), then I will mention again that muscle tone & balance (which we are talking about in this post) can be gained by the smallest muscle flexing imaginable.

I am actually doing something similar with the Anat Baniel method. She does not use stretching - she uses slow movements that are designed to get the brain to relearn how to move. Shes a Feldenkrais instructor.

In her method you do small movements slowly (because the brain listens when you do things slowly). I've found that these movements really do open up movement and increase flexibility and feelings of well being much more than stretching exercises. I anticipate a great deal of improvement in my ability to move without muscular tension (a big problem for me) as I do her program.

I started this because of shoulder pain from typing but I think it will go well beyond that.



Decennial ME/CFS patient
Portland, OR
Balance and gait abnormalities in ME/CFS


Could it be that the balance problems are neurological? And can they be retrained by mindfulness type exercises?

While I can't speak to mindfulness exercises (except to say that I have found QiGong and Yoga helpful), I do think that balance, along with vertigo/dizziness as a whole, is a highly under-appreciated aspect of ME/CFS. And in terms of how it impacts our ability to walk, I would note that there have been a handful of studies from more than a decade -- including one from Dr. Natelson in 1995 -- that demonstrate (a PDF) ME/CFS patients walk differently from healthy controls and that it may be a way of assessing the progression of the disease.

As for the ability of deep massage to treat this, I can imagine there would be a problem for those of us with co-morbid Fibromyalgia as generally we cannot tolerate deep massage. Opiates might help that -- it has allowed my massage therapist to work more deeply on me -- but that would, of course, be problematic on a number of levels.

Having just come home from my weekly massage therapy session, I don't know that in my five years of experience with massage therapy I've noticed a great deal of impact on my balance and gait, even if some of the Good Walking Days I remember have been on days of massage therapy. However if anything, one of the worst falls I've ever had came after massage therapy. ;-)