Lessen Fibromyalgia Pain with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“You’ve heard the expression “mind over matter,” but did you know that it’s a tried-and-true approach to easing many conditions, including fibromyalgia?” – Madeline Vann
Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disorder whose causes are unknown. It is very common affecting over 5 million people in the U.S., about 2% of the population with about 7 times more women affected than men. 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. 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. Although it is not itself fatal, suicide rates are higher in fibromyalgia sufferers.
There are no completely effective treatments for fibromyalgia. Symptoms are generally treated with pain relievers, antidepressant drugs and exercise. But, these only reduce the severity of the symptoms and do not treat the disease directly. Mindfulness practices have also been shown to be effective in reducing pain from fibromyalgia. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Meditation for Fibromyalgia: Mechanistic and Clinical Considerations.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693231/ ), Adler-Neal and Zeidan review and summarize the published research literature on the employment of mindfulness training for the relief of fibromyalgia symptoms.
They report that “mindfulness interventions . . . are generally premised on (a) developing sustained attention to arising sensory, affective, and cognitive events, (b) recognizing such experiences as momentary and fleeting, and (c) attenuating reactions/judgments to said experiences. Mindfulness training reliably improves catastrophizing, anxiety, depression, mood, and stress. Thus, improvements in mood and cognitive flexibility could lead to greater pain relief by altering the way patients interpret/contextualize pain-related ruminations.”
They report that the research finds that mindfulness training, especially if tailored for fibromyalgia, significantly improves fatigue, stress, sleep, pain, pain coping, positive emotions, family stress, loneliness and global well-being in fibromyalgia patients. In addition, these benefits appear to be sustained for at least 2 months after the completion of training. Hence, mindfulness training would appear to be a safe and effective treatment for fibromyalgia.
The improvements produced by mindfulness training appear to be mediated by changes in the nervous system. It heightens activity in the brain cortical areas that underlie the cognitional and emotional evaluation of pain and decreased activation of brain thalamic areas that process sensory information. Hence, mindfulness training appears to alter the brain to improve mechanisms underlying attention and emotions and decrease sensory sensitivity to pain. This can deaden pain itself plus improve the non-judgmental and non-reactive awareness of the pain, reducing the suffering of fibromyalgia pain.
People with fibromyalgia suffer to an extent where some contemplate suicide. It is wonderful to see that relatively simple and safe mindfulness training can effectively reduce the suffering.
So, lessen fibromyalgia pain with mindfulness.
“While being mindful did make them more aware of pain or a symptom of their condition, it also helped them be open to something good happening and they had the choice to focus on the good. Many people spoke of trying to negotiate a balance in their feelings,” – Jaqui Long
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Adler-Neal, A. L., & Zeidan, F. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Fibromyalgia: Mechanistic and Clinical Considerations. Current Rheumatology Reports, 19(9), 59. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11926-017-0686-0
Purpose of Review
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread pain and a spectrum of psychological comorbidities, rendering treatment difficult and often a financial burden. Fibromyalgia is a complicated chronic pain condition that requires a multimodal therapeutic approach to optimize treatment efficacy. Thus, it has been postulated that mind-body techniques may prove fruitful in treating fibromyalgia. Mindfulness meditation, a behavioral technique premised on non-reactive sensory awareness, attenuates pain and improves mental health outcomes. However, the impact of mindfulness meditation on fibromyalgia-related outcomes has not been comprehensively characterized. The present review delineates the existing evidence supporting the effectiveness and hypothesized mechanisms of mindfulness meditation in treating fibromyalgia-related outcomes.
Mindfulness-based interventions premised on cultivating acceptance, non-attachment, and social engagement may be most effective in decreasing fibromyalgia-related pain and psychological symptoms. Mindfulness-based therapies may alleviate fibromyalgia-related outcomes through multiple neural, psychological, and physiological processes.
Mindfulness meditation may provide an effective complementary treatment approach for fibromyalgia patients, especially when combined with other reliable techniques (exercise; cognitive behavioral therapy). However, characterizing the specific analgesic mechanisms supporting mindfulness meditation is a critical step to fostering the clinical validity of this technique. Identification of the specific analgesic mechanisms supporting mindfulness-based pain relief could be utilized to better design behavioral interventions to specifically target fibromyalgia-related outcomes.