Mindfulness is Associated with Lower Impact of Fibromyalgia and Greater Well-Being
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“people with fibromyalgia may have what’s called an “attentional bias” toward negative information that appeared to be linked to pain severity. . . mindfulness training may help manage this trait and therefore reduce pain.” – Adrienne Dellwo
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. Clearly, fibromyalgia greatly reduces the quality of life of its’ 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. Some of the effects of mindfulness practices are to alter thought processes, changing what is thought about. In terms of pain, mindfulness training, by focusing attention on the present moment has been shown to reduce worry and catastrophizing. Pain is increased by worry about the pain and the expectation of greater pain in the future. So, mindfulness may reduce worry and catastrophizing and thereby reduce fibromyalgia pain and improve the quality of life.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness is associated with psychological health and moderates the impact of fibromyalgia.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6545163/) Pleman and colleagues recruited adult patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia and had them complete measures of mindfulness, fibromyalgia impact, pain interference, symptom severity, anxiety, depression, perceived stress, coping strategies, health-related quality of life, self-efficacy, and walking ability.
They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of fibromyalgia impact, pain interference, symptom severity, anxiety, depression, and perceived stress, and the higher the mental health related quality of life, coping, and self-efficacy. This was true also for the individual mindfulness facets of describing, acting-with-awareness, and non-judging. Hence, mindfulness was associated with better psychological health and lower overall impact of fibromyalgia.
These findings are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. But prior research has shown that mindfulness training causes improvements in fibromyalgia. So, the present findings are probably due to a causal effect of being mindful on the psychological and physical impact of fibromyalgia and the quality of life of the patients. Hence, mindfulness can go a long way toward relieving the suffering of patients with fibromyalgia.
So, mindfulness is associated with lower impact of fibromyalgia and greater well-being.
“Often, individuals with fibromyalgia demonstrate a series of maladaptive coping strategies which in turn can lead to poor mental health; however mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly improve this.” – Breathworks
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Pleman, B., Park, M., Han, X., Price, L. L., Bannuru, R. R., Harvey, W. F., Driban, J. B., & Wang, C. (2019). Mindfulness is associated with psychological health and moderates the impact of fibromyalgia. Clinical rheumatology, 38(6), 1737–1745. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10067-019-04436-1
Previous studies suggest mindfulness is associated with pain and depression. However, its impact in individuals with fibromyalgia remains unclear. We examined associations between mindfulness and physical and psychological symptoms, pain interference, and quality of life in fibromyalgia patients.
We performed a cross-sectional analysis on baseline data from a fibromyalgia clinical trial. Mindfulness was assessed using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). Pearson’s correlations and multivariable linear regression models were used to evaluate associations between mindfulness and fibromyalgia impact, pain interference, physical function, depression, anxiety, stress, self-efficacy, and health-related quality of life. We also examined whether mindfulness moderated associations between fibromyalgia impact and psychological outcomes.
A total of 177 participants (age 52.0±12.2 (SD) years; 93.2% women; 58.8% white; body mass index 30.1±6.7 kg/m2; FFMQ score 131.3±20.7; Revised Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire score 57.0±19.4) were included. Higher total mindfulness was significantly associated with lower fibromyalgia impact (r=−0.25), pain interference (r=−0.31), stress (r=−0.56), anxiety (r=−0.58), depression (r=−0.54), and better mental health-related quality of life (r=0.57). Describing, Acting-with-awareness, and Non-judging facets of mindfulness were also associated with these outcomes. Mindfulness moderated the effect of fibromyalgia impact on anxiety (interaction P=0.01).
Higher mindfulness is associated with less pain interference, lower impact of fibromyalgia, and better psychological health and quality of life in people with fibromyalgia. Mindfulness moderates the influence of fibromyalgia impact on anxiety, suggesting mindfulness may alter how patients cope with fibromyalgia. Future studies should assess how mind-body therapies aiming to cultivate mindfulness may impact the well-being of patients with fibromyalgia.