Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic disorder with chronic widespread pain, diffuse tenderness, fatigue, and non-restorative sleep that can interfere with a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Fibromyalgia can be difficult to treat, and pharmacological therapies are costly, and are not very effective in improving pain and function.
Unfortunately, the exact cause is unknown, and treatment is generally directed toward decreasing the severity of symptoms. Conventional treatment usually involves the use of prescription drugs, analgesics, and NSAIDs. However, other alternative therapies are coming to light, such as Tai Chi, acupuncture, massage, and nutrient/vitamin therapies. Although the evidence is mixed and relatively new, these therapies may be beneficial for patients and low risk. Here is some information I have found regarding these natural treatment options.
Evidence is emerging that Tai Chi has potential therapeutic effects for fibromyalgia. Some studies have shown that once or twice weekly Tai Chi sessions are an adequate regimen to decrease pain and improve quality of life (1). However, more research needs to be completed to determine the optimal dose of Tai Chi. Depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia are often intertwined. Since Tai Chi is a low impact form of exercise that also uses mindful relaxing techniques, it seems like an excellent therapeutic option for fibromyalgia patients.
Fifteen to twenty percent of patients with fibromyalgia seek out acupuncture treatment (2), and it appears to be effective at reducing pain. Although the evidence is relatively new and mixed, one review found that acupuncture led to a small, but significant reduction in pain post-treatment (2), but whether or not it was beneficial in alleviating other symptoms is still unclear. In multiple studies, the patient drop-out has been low, indicating good acceptance of the treatment by patients, and a relatively low risk treatment (2). Other functional syndromes that are also present in fibromyalgia patients such as irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety, may also benefit from acupuncture treatment.
Massage may also be an option for treatment in patients with fibromyalgia. However, there are many different types of massage, so which one is best for relieving fibromyalgia symptoms? According to a systematic review, there is moderate evidence that myofascial release technique reduces pain, anxiety, and depression, especially immediately after treatment (3). Effects of pain and depression were also observed during short and medium term follow up after myofascial release. Manual lymphatic drainage may be of use too, in terms of decreasing stiffness and depression (3). Swedish massage (your normal massage treatment) did not seem to have any symptom-reducing effects (3). Keep in mind, that the evidence in mixed, as it is hard to have a control group in a study when you are examining the effects of massage. However, the risk is low, and the after treatment effects seem to provide a decent amount of relief.
A few studies have shown that patient with fibromyalgia syndrome are vitamin D deficient. The relationship between vitamin D and fibromylgia syndrome is not yet clearly understood. Could vitamin D deficiency be the cause or the result of fibromyalgia? Although some studies show no benefit with vitamin D therapy for fibromyalgia symptoms, other studies do show that vitamin D therapy may improve quality of life of some patients (4). It is also important to keep in mind that patients with fibromyalgia also may struggle with depression, and as a result spend less time in the sun. This could result in vitamin D deficiency, and be a possible explanation of the association between fibromyalgia and vitamin D deficiency. As vitamin D therapy is inexpensive, keep in mind that it is not low risk. Vitamin D toxicity can be detrimental, and anyone wanting to try vitamin D supplementation should consult their physician before doing so.
Make sure you tell your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
“A Randomized Trial of Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia — NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0912611.
Langhorst, Jost, et al. “Efficacy of acupuncture in fibromyalgia syndrome-a systematic review with a meta-Analysis of controlled clinical trials | Rheumatology | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 25 Jan. 2010, academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/49/4/778/1789898/Efficacy-of-acupuncture-in-fibromyalgia-syndrome-a.
“Effectiveness of different styles of massage therapy in fibromyalgia: A systematic review and meta-Analysis.” Manual Therapy, Churchill Livingstone, 5 Oct. 2014, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1356689X14001829.
“Effects of Vitamin D Therapy on Quality of Life in Patients with Fibromyalgia.” ProHealth.com, www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?libid=30554.