In many, if not most of the cases, non-pharmacological treatment could be a better choice.
Though FDA has approved few drugs for the fight against fibromyalgia, their usefulness is limited. More extensive clinical trials have revealed the limited success of drug therapy. These medications are known to have side effects much severe than fibromyalgia itself. Therefore, no doubt that they are reserved for most severe cases only. For all other instances, treating fibromyalgia without using toxic drugs is the way.
What makes fibromyalgia challenging to treat?
It is a widespread condition affecting 2-8% of the population and is more common among the female gender.
Fibromyalgia is characterized by tenderness and increased response to pain, and is a condition that affects various body parts. It is also about mood disorders, increased prevalence of anxiety, depression, memory issues, reduced resilience to stress, poor memory, and concentration.
Term fibrositis was first used to define the condition in 1904, and later it was changed to fibromyalgia in 1976. However, fibromyalgia was recognized as a disease condition much later — the American College of Rheumatology was first to come up with diagnostic criteria in 1990.
Why did it take so long for doctors to understand fibromyalgia?
Reasons are simple, fibromyalgia to a degree remains a diagnosis of exclusion and continues to be a poorly understood medical condition. It means that doctors would diagnose a person with fibromyalgia after excluding various severe medical conditions. There is no lab or instrumental test that can confirm the diagnosis for sure. In fibromyalgia, most lab tests show normal results; thus, the final diagnosis is made deductively – by keeping in mind the various symptoms.
Modern medicine poorly understands the disease process underlying the development of fibromyalgia.
It means that doctors do not fully understand the causes of fibromyalgia. At present, the best guess is that genetics and environmental factors lead to changes in the body and brain, thus causing increased pain sensitivity and mood disorders. It seems that chronic stress, faulty diet, wrong lifestyle choices have a lot to do with the disease, and changing them may help more than using medications.
Since doctors or modern medicine is not sure about the disease processes, it means that they can do little to help. Doctors can prescribe painkillers like opioids, anti-seizure drugs, or anti-depressants. These drugs can help in severe cases, but in mild to moderate cases, they may cause more harm than good. Moreover, fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that requires prolonged treatment.
Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition, requiring continuous care.
In recent years, the movement for recognizing fibromyalgia as a disability has strengthened. For many people, the condition means living with pain for years or even decades. This chronic nature of the disease only enhances the view that non-toxic, natural therapies must form the backbone of treatment of the condition.
Exercise, cognitive behavior therapy, along with physiotherapy, are the most effective and non-toxic methods of the treatment of fibromyalgia.
Below are some of the non-pharmacological treatments that can be included in fibromyalgia management. It is essential to understand that any of the methods mentioned below will help when used for a period long enough. How long will it take to feel the benefit will vary greatly depending on the severity of the condition. In most cases, 8 to 10 sessions of these therapies done in 2 to 4 weeks would help considerably.
Hot Stone Therapy
It is a combination of massage and applying heat at particular points with the help of stones. Treatment involves using special kinds of stones that retain heat for longer. Experienced therapist knows the effect of applying these stones on specific spots on the body for maximum benefit.
American Massage Therapy Association’s research indicates that about 50 million Americans asked their doctor to include massage therapy in their treatment. The majority of doctors also trust massage therapy. It shows benefits in a range of conditions.
Hot stone therapy has added benefits. It increases the efficacy of the usual massage. Thus, it is better than the conventional massage at:
- Relieving spasms and body aches
- Improving circulation
- Reducing tenderness
- Enhancing mood and stress reduction
- Improving the quality of sleep
Hot stones therapy can be especially useful when tenderness and pain are concentrated on specific points in the body; something quite common in fibromyalgia.
Prolonged use of hot stone therapy helps in a different way. Continuous or regular distressing with the help of the treatment, stimulation of local circulation, and its effect on immune responses may help alter the course of the disease.
Hot stone therapy will help from the first session. However, after multiple sessions, most people will feel that they can have more prolonged symptom-free periods after such treatment.
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It merely means applying heat to relieve pain and spasms, improve local blood flow, and may help a person sleep better.
Hot stone therapy is also a kind of heat therapy. However, term heat therapy is used in a broader sense to define any treatment involving the use of heat application either by contact (like hot stones or water packs) or without contact like the use of infrared lamps.
Immersing oneself in a hot water tub is also a kind of heat therapy, and it may help with fibromyalgia. The good thing about such therapy is that it can also be carried out at home. However, it may have additional benefits when done under the supervision of experts.
When carried under the supervision of experts, it may have added benefits due to better selection of heat therapy method, more controlled application of heat. Moreover, in specialized healthcare centers or SPAs, heat therapy may be combined with other treatments like massage therapy, aromatherapy, herbal applications, and so on.
Clinical trials of heat therapy in fibromyalgia show that it has both short-term and long-term benefits.
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Photon Light Therapy
It is much more than non-contact heat therapy, as light rays are able to penetrate the skin and thus causing many beneficial changes, both local and systemic.
It is a name used to define a therapy with the visible spectrum of light, and numerous names are used to define this therapy like biostimulation, photobiomodulation, red light therapy, soft laser therapy, and so on.
This kind of therapy is used for several disease conditions like relieving pain, treating stretch marks, reducing wrinkles, helping with severe skin diseases, and so on. It can also be used along with the application of photosensitizing medications.
It works in a number of ways, like increasing cellular energy and boosting local production of ATP, stimulating the functioning of mitochondria. It is known that in fibromyalgia spots of tenderness or increased pain sensation suffer from low blood and energy supplies.
It is thought that photon light therapy may reduce fibromyalgia pain also through depolarization of C-fiber, reducing hyperexcitability of pain receptors. It may also promote nitric oxide release, thus causing local vasodilation and restoring blood flow.
Photon light therapy has been subject to numerous clinical trials. In most studies, good results were achieved (reduction in pain level and changes in tender points) after 8 to 10 treatments carried out in 2 to 4 weeks period.
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Far Infrared Therapy
Yet another kind of non-contact heat therapy with widespread health benefits, meaning that there are other mechanisms involved than merely increasing local blood flow or relieving muscle spasm.
Infrared is an invisible spectrum of light capable of transferring light energy to the tissues below the skin. It is entirely safe and cannot overheat skin or cause thermal injury.
Researchers have found that it helps not only in relieving pain and spasm but is also suitable for heart health, it may help in diabetes, and is helpful in chronic kidney disease. Because of such widespread health benefits, it can help in fibromyalgia by alleviating pain.
Researchers think that it helps not only by improving the local blood flow but by having a positive effect on other body functions. It could be possible due to its positive impact on endothelial nitric oxide. It may also modulate some other bio-messengers in the body.
This kind of therapy can be applied in many ways. The most common way is by using a special apparatus with a lamp that emits infrared waves and can be used even at home. However, such therapy may have a better effect when used at special facilities due to the better quality of apparatuses used. Another way of using this therapy is through the infrared-ray dry sauna. Clinical trials have shown improved symptoms in fibromyalgia with such treatment.
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Negative ION Therapy
No one can negate the mood uplifting effect of fresh air, kind of atmosphere found at the beaches, mountains, near waterfalls, and so on. In many cases, such air may have a magical effect, relieving pain and depression immediately.
What do we mean by the term “fresh air”? It seems that researchers have a reply. They understand what makes the air feel so fresh in certain places.
It seems that air rich in negative ions is what we need many times. Negative ions are depleted at places we live in. There are fewer negative ions in densely populated areas. However, they are in abundance at locations like mountains, woods, grasslands, beaches, and so on.
It seems that science has found a way of creating fresh air. This is done by using a special apparatus that increases the concentration of negative ions.
At present, there is limited research regarding its benefits in fibromyalgia. Nonetheless, there is some scientific basis for assuming that it may be beneficial in the condition. Most studies regarding the use of negative ion therapy have focused on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and milder forms of depression. As SAD and mild depression frequently coexist with fibromyalgia, there is a reason to say that such kind of therapy may work for many living with fibromyalgia.
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Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy involves using the energy of the electromagnetic field to stimulate healing processes. It has shown particular value in accelerating slow-healing fractures, reducing symptoms of depression, and managing certain painful conditions. PEMF is approved for many such indications by the US FDA.
Since it is well established that PEMF can fasten bone healing, reduce pain (including postoperative pain), and depression, it would be safe to say that it can have a role in fibromyalgia treatment.
PEMF may help in fibromyalgia in many ways, by improving local blood flow, suppressing hypersensitive nerve endings, improving lymphatic circulation, stimulating blood vessels, reducing depression, enhancing sleep quality, reducing fatigue, and much more.
PEMF is known to help with localized and chronic musculoskeletal pains. It may even help even in painful conditions when medical drugs fail. Moreover, prolonged use of such a therapy is safe. However, at present, evidence regarding the benefits of PEMF in fibromyalgia is limited. This does not mean that the therapy cannot help; it merely means that there is a need for more and extensive clinical trials.
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How do the therapies mentioned above compare to US FDA approved drug therapy in fibromyalgia?
There is a strong reason to say that the therapies mentioned above should be the first choice for most people living with fibromyalgia.
The number one reason in favor of these treatments is that none of the drugs approved by the US FDA have shown good results in clinical studies. They help only in a small number of cases.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that may last for years or even decades. Three US FDA approved drugs milnacipran (Savella), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and pregabalin (Lyrica), are all known to be highly toxic substances. They are known to cause headaches, worsen depression, cause loss of memory, cause weight gain, disturb sleep, lead to trembling, unsteady walk, and much more. One can readily find the information regarding the number of severe and frequent side effects associated with these drug therapies on the US FDA or other dependable websites.
Therapies mentioned above that is heat therapy, hot stone therapy, photon and infrared therapy, negative ion therapy, and PEMF may not work in all the cases. One may need to try various treatments to find what works for him or her. However, all these therapies are so safe when done under the supervision of experts.
Many of the therapies mentioned are commonly used by people at home with no known side effects. However, their efficacy may increase multiple times when carried out at specialized institutions or clinics.
Perhaps the best way to utilize these therapies is to get 8 to 10 seances of one or some of these therapies combined at a specialized clinic. For better overall results, one can consult a specialist regarding the use of these therapies at home, as a follow-on care.