Alternative Therapies for Fibromyalgia – Non-Pharmacological Therapies
Fibromyalgia patients often make use of a variety of different alternative therapies because they do not get adequate relief from medication. In fact, a combination of different therapies provides the most effective symptom relief. Each individual will have a combination that suits them best. Therefore, trial and error will help you find your own most effective combination of therapies. Fibromyalgia patients have reported some relief from a variety of alternative , such as; healing therapies, massage, chiropractor, acupuncture, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy and hypobaric chamber. So, here I will provide an overview of reviews of scientific research that investigates the effectiveness of alternative therapies in treating fibromyalgia.
Survey of Fibromyalgia Patients and Alternative Therapy Use
One study that involved a 14 year follow-up survey of fibromyalgia patients found that over 98% of participants reported using some form of complementary and integrative therapies; a similar number to those questioned in the previous survey. The most frequently used therapies were: spiritual healing (54%); massage therapy (50%); chiropractic treatments (39.3%); aromatherapy (39.0%); exercise for a specific medical problem (38.6%); melatonin (37.9%); magnesium (36.3%); green tea (36.1%); and fish oil (34.5%). 40.
Massage For Fibromyalgia
Nowicki and Lowe acknowledge that most fibromyalgia patients require some physical treatment in addition to the metabolic therapies discussed previously. This is required to get full relief of their fibromyalgia pain. 15. They state that several studies have shown that spinal manipulation, soft tissue manipulation and trigger point therapy provide improvement in some fibromyalgia symptoms, especially pain. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) also state that fibromyalgia patients may find massage therapy helpful for some fibromyalgia symptoms if continued for long enough.
Mixed Findings on the Effectiveness of Alternative Therapies
A 2015 review of the effectiveness of complementary and alternative therapies in the treatment of the fibromyalgia syndrome had mixed findings. 41. There were consistently positive results for the following therapies: tai chi, yoga, meditation and mindfulness-based interventions; hypnosis or guided imagery; electromyogram (EMG) biofeedback; and balneotherapy/hydrotherapy. There were also inconsistent results for qigong, acupuncture, chiropractic interventions, electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback, and nutritional supplements; in addition to inconclusive results for homeopathy and phytotherapy.
Major methodological flaws included: missing details on data extraction process; included or excluded studies; study details; and adaption of conclusions based on quality assessment. 41. The authors conclude that despite a growing body of scientific evidence of complementary and alternative therapies for the management of fibromyalgia, major methodological flaws in research limits definite conclusions about their efficacy and safety.
Conflicting Research Findings
Another 2017 review of research on complementary and alternative therapies for fibromyalgia had conflicting findings. There was limited evidence that homeopathy, spinal manipulation and herbal medicine provided effective relief. There was also limited evidence that acupuncture improved pain compared to no treatment or standard treatment; however, they found good evidence that it is no better than sham acupuncture. 42.
A 2019 review of the role of complimentary and alternative therapies in fibromyalgia also had similar results. Acupuncture and biofeedback had mixed results, and may not be beneficial complementary therapies for fibromyalgia. On the other hand, massage, Tai Chi, probiotics, nutrition and medicinal cannabis all showed promising results in treating fibromyalgia. The authors also reported that several small studies have shown that hyperbaric oxygen therapy, transdermal magnesium and low-level light therapy may be effective in improving fibromyalgia symptoms. 43.
Small Studies on Additional Therapies – More Recent Research
A 2020 review of recent advances in fibromyalgia, including the use of alternative remedies, reported similar findings to the previous reviews but also covered additional therapies. The author stated that electric nerve stimulation and acupuncture applications, gamma-frequency rhythmic vibroacoustic stimulation, cryotherapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, laser therapy and phototherapy, and medicinal cannabis all seem to be beneficial in fibromyalgia patients. Probiotics and body warming therapies such as mud baths may be beneficial but require further research to be conclusive. 44.
The Effectiveness of Different Types of Exercise
The author also reported that exercise improved quality of life and the ability to do daily activities; and to decrease tiredness and pain. They went further to discuss how different types of exercise are effective in treating fibromyalgia: a progressive muscle strengthening activity was a safe and effective mode of exercise; yoga showed a significant improvement on standardized measures of symptoms and functioning, including fatigue, mood and pain, and in pain acceptance and other coping strategies. 44.
Aquatic exercise training showed that it may be beneficial for improving wellness, symptoms, and fitness; belly dancing was effective in improving functional capacity, pain, quality of life and improving body image; Zumba dancing was effective in improving pain and physical functioning; and Tai chi mind-body treatment improved fibromyalgia symptoms as much as aerobic exercise, and longer duration of Tai chi showed greater improvement. 44.
Plant Extracts and Fibromyalgia
Plant extracts were beneficial in the treatment of fibromyalgia. 44. In addition to cannabis, trans-β-caryophyllene (BCP) is a terpenoid that exists in a number of essential oils, which significantly minimised pain in both acute and chronic models. BPC works with the endocannabinoid system and is safe at high levels. Preclinical studies indicate a potential use of St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in medical pain management due to its phenolic compounds.
Many phenolic compounds (e.g., flavonoids) from medicinal plants are promising candidates for new natural pain-killing drugs. Quercetin and rutin showed pain-relieving activity; the pain-killing potency of hyperin was approximately 20-fold of morphine, while luteolin presented effective pain-killing activities for both acute and chronic pain management. Some glycosides of kaempferol, baicalin and fisetin also show pain-killing potential. One clinical trial also showed that 15mg of saffron (Crocus sativus) extract was just as effective in treating fibromyalgia symptoms as 30 mg of the approved drug duloxetine. 44.
Conclusions On the Effectiveness of Alternative Therapies
The main problem with inconclusive results from scientific research appears to be due to flaws with how the research is carried out. Better, more robust research is therefore needed to allow us to draw more trustworthy conclusions. In the meantime, you should try out these therapies for yourself. We are all individual, with a variety of different symptoms so there is every chance that a therapy that works for someone else won’t for you, and vice-versa. Fibromyalgia requires a combination approach to gain the fullest relief so try out the different therapies until you find a combination that works best for you. It is a time consuming and very frustrating process but it is worth it. Particularly if you are able to find the relief that I have.
40. Mohabbat, A.B., Mahapatra, S., Jenkins, S.M., Bauer, B.A., Vincent, A. and Wahner-Roedler, D.L., 2019. Use of Complementary and Integrative Therapies by Fibromyalgia Patients: A 14-Year Follow-up Study. Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes, 3(4), pp.418-428.
41. Lauche, R., Cramer, H., Häuser, W., Dobos, G. and Langhorst, J., 2015. A systematic overview of reviews for complementary and alternative therapies in the treatment of the fibromyalgia syndrome. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015.
42. Perry, R., Leach, V., Davies, P., Penfold, C., Ness, A. and Churchill, R., 2017. An overview of systematic reviews of complementary and alternative therapies for fibromyalgia using both AMSTAR and ROBIS as quality assessment tools. Systematic reviews, 6(1), pp.1-23.
43. Prabhakar, A., Kaiser, J.M., Novitch, M.B., Cornett, E.M., Urman, R.D. and Kaye, A.D., 2019. The role of complementary and alternative medicine treatments in fibromyalgia: a comprehensive review. Current rheumatology reports, 21(5), pp.1-7.
44. Maffei, M.E., 2020. Fibromyalgia: Recent advances in diagnosis, classification, pharmacotherapy and alternative remedies. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(21), p.7877.