Fibromyalgia affects up to 5% of Americans, mainly women. It is a chronic condition characterized by persistent widespread musculoskeletal pain, stiff joints, fatigue, disturbed sleep, anxiety and depression. Here are six alternative therapies that have been shown to be effective for reducing fibromyalgia pain and improving overall quality of life.
Several studies have shown yoga to be beneficial for fibromyalgia. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University randomly divided female fibromyalgia patients into two groups. Half of them were assigned to an 8-week ‘Yoga of Awareness’ program which combined yoga poses with meditation and breathing exercises. The other group was wait-listed for standard care. Patients in the yoga group showed significantly greater improvements in pain, fatigue and mood compared to the control group. The researchers then conducted a follow-up study and concluded that the benefits of yoga for fibromyalgia are replicable and can be maintained.
2. 5-HTP Supplements
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a chemical that the body makes from tryptophan, an amino acid found in certain foods. Enzymes convert 5-HTP to the ‘feel good’ brain neurotransmitter serotonin. Fibromyalgia patients usually have low serotonin levels, which can cause increased sensitivity to pain. A study published in the International Journal of Medical Research, tested the efficacy of 5-HTP in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Half of the patients involved in the trial were given 100 mg of 5-HTP three times daily. The other half received a placebo. After 30 days, the patients were evaluated for pain, anxiety, sleep patterns and morning stiffness. All four symptoms improved significantly more in the 5-HTP group.
3. Tai Chi
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that combines slow and gentle movements with deep breathing and relaxation. A randomized, controlled trial conducted at the Tufts Medical Center suggests that tai chi is a useful therapy for treating fibromyalgia. Patients were assigned to one of two 12-week interventions. Half of them attended 60 minutes tai chi classes twice a week and were instructed to practice tai chi at home for at least 20 minutes each day. The other half attended a wellness education and stretching program which similarly included 60 minute sessions held twice a week. They were told to practice stretches for 20 minutes a day. The researchers measured the change in the patients’ Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire scores between the start and end of the trial. The tai chi group showed clinically significant improvement in the total FIQ score and in measures used to assess pain, depression, sleep quality and quality of life.
Some research suggests that the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture can help ease fibromyalgia symptoms. A study at the Mayo Clinic involved 50 fibromyalgia patients randomly divided into two groups. Half were given six acupuncture treatments and half were given fake treatments intended to mimic acupuncture. Following treatment, patients filled in a Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire. They were surveyed again one month later. The patients who received genuine acupuncture had less fatigue and fewer anxiety symptoms than the control group. An Australian review of nine trials with 395 participants concluded that there is ‘low to moderate-level evidence’ that acupuncture improves pain and stiffness in people with fibromyalgia.
5. Vitamin D
Several studies report that people with fibromyalgia have lower vitamin D levels than the general population. Researchers at the Mayo Comprehensive Pain Rehabilitation Center took blood samples from 267 adults undergoing treatment for chronic pain and found that 26% suffered from a vitamin D deficiency. A UK study revealed that 43% of women with fibromyalgia had very low vitamin D levels. Austrian researchers conducted a randomized, controlled trial involving 30 women with fibromyalgia who also had low levels of vitamin D. Half of the women took vitamin D supplements for 25 weeks. The others were given a placebo. The patients were tracked for a further 24 weeks. Those in the vitamin D supplement group reported significantly less pain and morning fatigue.
6. Manual lymph drainage therapy
Manual lymphatic drainage therapy (MLDT) is a type of massage in which gentle rhythmic pumping techniques are used to move the skin in the direction of the lymph flow and loosen blockages that may be causing pain. In a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Nursing, women with fibromyalgia were treated with twelve 60-minute MLDT sessions over a four-week period. Patients experienced significant improvement in pain, stiffness, sleepiness and well-being which continued for two months after treatment. A Turkish study compared the effects of MLDT and connective tissue massage (CTM) in fibromyalgia patients. Patients were randomly assigned to receive one or the other type of massage five times a week for three weeks. Both groups experienced significant improvements in pain intensity, pain pressure threshold and quality of life. However, MLDT was found to be a more effective for improving tiredness and anxiety.