“I wake up tired, I stay up tired, I go to bed tired. I wake up in pain, I stay up in pain, I go to bed in pain. I wake up with hope, I stay up with hope, I go to bed with hope.” – FibroColors
Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disorder whose causes are unknown. It is characterized by widespread pain, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbance, and fatigue that lead to psychological distress. Fibromyalgia may also have morning stiffness, tingling or numbness in hands and feet, headaches, including migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disturbances, thinking and memory problems, and painful menstrual periods.
Fibromyalgia is very common affecting over 5 million people in the U.S., about 2% of the population. The vast majority of fibromyalgia sufferers are women, roughly 7 times more prevalent than in men. Although it is not itself fatal, suicide rates are higher in fibromyalgia sufferers. The symptoms are so severe and debilitating that about half the patients are unable to perform routine daily functions and about a third have to stop work.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia and the treatments are aimed at symptom relief. Drugs from simple pain killers to antidepressants are used and can help. There is a need for other treatment options. In a previous post it was discussed how mindfulness practice can be effective for the symptoms of fibromyalgia (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/mindfulness-the-pain-killer/). There are a number of other complementary and alternative therapies that might also be effective.
In today’s Research News article “Overview of Reviews for Complementary and Alternative Therapies in the Treatment of the Fibromyalgia Syndrome”
Lauche and colleagues review the literature on the use of complementary and alternative therapies such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, homeopathy, etc. for the treatment of fibromyalgia. They found that the published research indicates that tai chi, yoga, meditation and mindfulness-based interventions, hypnosis or guided imagery, biofeedback, and hydrotherapy were consistently effective while homeopathy and phytotherapy produced very inconsistent effects.
It is interesting that mind body techniques in general appeared to have positive effects especially on pain and, importantly, tended to be more effective than the usual treatments for fibromyalgia. A common feature of these practices is that they tend to calm the sympathetic nervous system which is involved in physiological activation. It is possible that this is a key to producing some relief of fibromyalgia symptoms.
But, mind body therapies have a large number of effects that may underlie their usefulness for fibromyalgia. They tend to promote emotion regulation, allowing the individual to experience their emotions but not overreact or react inappropriately to them. Since, fibromyalgia tends to produce emotional distress, the improved emotion regulation produced by mind body therapies could be a key to relieving the symptoms.
In addition, mind body therapies are known to alter the nervous system processing of pain stimuli, reducing the intensity of pain and the reactions to pain. This effect of these therapies directly affects a central symptom of fibromyalgia, pain. There are also other effects of these therapies such as improved attention and increased focus on the present moment that may also have effects on the symptoms by reducing worry and rumination. It remains for future research to clarify the most important consequences of mind body therapies for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
So, practice mindfulness and improve fibromyalgia symptoms.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies