Fibromyalgia and Complementary Health Approaches
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that causes muscle pain and fatigue. Researchers are evaluating a variety of complementary health approaches as possible additions to conventional treatment for fibromyalgia. The following provides basic information about fibromyalgia and summarizes the research on complementary approaches for fibromyalgia.
Facts about Fibromyalgia
Those who suffer with fibromyalgia have widespread pain and “tender points” on their bodies that hurt when slight pressure is put on them. People with fibromyalgia may also have other problems such as:
v Trouble sleeping
v Morning stiffness
v Painful menstrual periods
v Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
v Problems with thinking and memory (sometimes called “fibro fog”)
v Depression and anxiety
It is estimated that fibromyalgia affects 5 million American adults. Most people with fibromyalgia, between 80% and 90%, are women. However, men and children also can have the disorder. The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, but current research is looking at how different parts of the nervous system may contribute to fibromyalgia pain.
A person with fibromyalgia may have other coexisting, chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome), irritable bowel syndrome, temporomandipular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia (chronic vulvar pain). It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.
What Science Says about Complimentary Health Approaches
There is no known cure for fibromyalgia and much of the treatments available focus on relieving symptoms. Much of the research on complementary health approaches for fibromyalgia is still preliminary and evidence of effectiveness is limited. However, some studies have shown that practices such as tai chi, qi gong, and massage therapy may help relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.
v Tai Chi: Research suggests that tai chi is a practice originating in China that involves moving the body slowly, gently, and with awareness. This martial arts exercise may provide a benefit to patients with fibromyalgia. One study compared the effects of a tai chi program with a wellness education and stretching program for managing fibromyalgia. Over a 12-week period, the researchers found that the participants in the tai chi group had significant improvements in symptoms such as pain, sleep quality, depression, and quality of life, and maintained these benefits for up to 24 weeks. A larger follow-up study of tai chi for fibromyalgia is underway.
v Qi Gong: A 2009 review examined the use of qi gong for fibromyalgia. This Chinese practice involves physical movement, mental focus, and breathing techniques. The reviewers found that qi gong may improve symptoms related to fibromyalgia.
v Massage: A study compared the effects of manual lymph drainage therapy (a massage technique used to move fluid away from areas where lymph vessels are blocked or damaged) and connective tissue massage in women with fibromyalgia. The researchers found that both types of massage helped to reduce pain, improve quality of life, and increase the pain pressure threshold. Manual lymph drainage therapy had a greater effect on the participants’ overall health.
v Acupuncture: A review of acupuncture for fibromyalgia concluded that acupuncture had a small pain-relieving effect. However, this effect might have been due to biases in the acupuncture studies. More research is needed to verify results.
v Balneotherapy: A bath therapy for health purposes, balneotherapy may provide some benefit to patients with fibromyalgia, particularly for improving pain. But more research needs to be done in order to confirm results.
v Biofeedback: Researchers have looked at whether various types of biofeedback may be helpful for fibromyalgia. However, more research is needed as it is not yet possible to reach definite conclusions.
v Homeopathy: A 2010 systematic review concluded that homeopathy has not been proven beneficial in relieving fibromyalgia symptoms.
v Natural Products: Small studies have examined various natural products for fibromyalgia, such as topical creams containing capsaicin (the substance that gives chili peppers their heat) or dietary supplements like S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) or soy. A 2010 review concluded that there is not enough evidence to determine whether these products provide a health benefit. Researchers are investigating whether low magnesium levels contribute to fibromyalgia and if magnesium supplements might help to reduce symptoms.
v Reiki: This is a practice based on an Eastern idea that energy supports the body’s natural healing abilities for fibromyalgia-related pain. The study showed no effect of Reiki on pain or any of the other outcomes measured in the study (physical and mental functioning, medication use, and visits to health care providers).
v Research evidence is insufficient to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of chiropractic care, hypnosis, or magnet therapy for fibromyalgia.
Before You Consider Complementary Health Approaches for Fibromyalgia
You need to consult your physician before you begin any complementary health approaches for these reasons:
v Some complementary health approaches—particularly dietary supplements—may interact with conventional medical treatments.
v Many of these approaches are not covered by medical insurance. If you are considering a practitioner-provided complementary approach such as acupuncture, ask a trusted source to recommend a practitioner.
To help ensure coordinated and safe care, tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you already use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. Together, you and your doctors can decide which approaches are best for you.