Pilates, water exercises, and relaxing music — sounds like a spa vacation, but it's all part of a comprehensive fibromyalgia treatment plan that could reduce your pain and brighten your worldview.
Is fibromyalgia pain tying you up in the kinds of knots it would take Houdini to untangle? Time to apply some creativity to fibromyalgia treatment. In fact, the same kinds of activities that help you unwind at a spa can give a boost to your everyday life — think soothing music, Pilates, and relaxation exercises like tai chi and qigong.
Before you raise a skeptical eyebrow, know that research has put some science behind these healing arts. So your doctor may be right there to support you in your search for more effective ways to handle fibromyalgia. In fact, says pain management specialist Roland Staud, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville, when most available medical therapies fail to help, many physicians switch over to alternative treatments.
11 Paths to Fibromyalgia Relief
Ready to get started? Here are some natural approaches to fibromyalgia treatment that you may want to try. Remember to mention any treatments you’re considering to your pain specialist first, to avoid any potential negative interactions with pain medications.
Acupuncture. Traditional Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture, is gaining in popularity, though it hasn’t yet been rigorously studied for fibromyalgia. A review of existing research — 25 studies involving a total of more than 1,500 people, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reveals that acupuncture treatments can reduce the number of tender points on the bodies of people with fibromyalgia. Acupuncture combined with cupping therapy (which applies heat and pressure to select spots on the skin) can cut down on overall pain as well as depression.
Biofeedback. In a UCLA study of 15 patients comparing those who received biofeedback training with those who did not, researchers determined that biofeedback helped to improve attention level and reduce the perception of pain, tender spots, fatigue, and morning stiffness.
3. Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT, long used for fibromyalgia treatment, helps patients identify negative thought patterns and change them. Researchers in Spain who recently evaluated people with fibromyalgia found that both cognitive behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy combined with hypnosis improve fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain, compared with use of only medications for treatment.
4. Craniosacral therapy. This is a type of massage that focuses on specific pressure points on your neck and head. Researchers compared the use of craniosacral therapy with a placebo treatment in 84 patients and found that those who had the massage experienced less pain, anxiety, and depression and also saw improvements in their daily living.
5. Mindfulness training. This therapeutic approach is similar to meditation in that you learn to be more aware of your thoughts and your pain in order to change your response to the pain and in turn reduce it, improving your quality of life. Researchers in Canada have developed a pilot computer program they say helps patients reorient the focus of their attention away from their pain. Nick Carleton, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Regina, says, “Most patients did not know what we were doing, but they benefited from the program.” After two mindfulness sessions a week for four weeks, fibromyalgia patients saw a 40 percent reduction in pain.
6. Music therapy. Research in Pain Management Nursing suggests that learning to visualize a relaxing scene in combination with specific music on a CD can help ease fibromyalgia pain. This is just one approach to music therapy for pain management, says Joanne Loewy, MT-BC, director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Music therapy includes a wide variety of options, including making music with others, singing, and drumming, all of which are promising options for fibromyalgia pain.
7. Physical activity. According to data in the Journal of Pain, by watching the brain’s response to pain during physical activity and while study participants were simply sitting, researchers determined that the brain is effectively distracted from pain by physical activity. So, get moving — almost any type of movement will do, and the more fun, the better.
8. Pilates. Scientists in Turkey have demonstrated that patients who participated in an hour of Pilates three times a week for at least 12 weeks reported less pain at the end of the three months as well as a decrease in the impact of fibromyalgia on their daily lives. Consider making Pilates part of your fibromyalgia pain management plan and you’ll also make important strength gains.
9. Qigong. Qigong is a technique taught in traditional Chinese medicine that uses specific postures, breathing exercises, and mental focus. A study reported in the journal Disability Rehabilitation compared women with fibromyalgia who learned this technique with similar women who did not and concluded that qigong may offer some relief from pain as well as other fibromyalgia symptoms.
10. Tai chi. Hourlong tai chi sessions twice a week for at least three months can help reduce pain and improve other fibromyalgia symptoms, such as sleeplessness, according to research published in the The New England Journal of Medicine. This research was done with the Yang style of tai chi, but you can try other approaches with certified teachers as well.
11. Yoga. Researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University developed an eight-week pilot program of yoga instruction that focused on greater awareness of breathing, meditation, and poses. All the women from the 53-person study who participated in the yoga sessions (rather than standard care only) found significant relief from fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain and fatigue and improved coping strategies as well.
Expect more nonpharmaceutical options to be available in the coming years, as researchers, doctors, and patients look for creative ways — some new and some rooted in ancient healing arts — to manage fibromyalgia pain.
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