Mind-Body Fibromyalgia Treatments

Mindfulness, movement, and more

In This Article

Mind-body treatments for fibromyalgia are a common option, especially since drug therapy is rarely 100% effective at controlling symptoms and many people with this condition don't tolerate drugs well. A lot of different mind-body approaches are available, but it can be hard to separate hype from fact when looking into different methods.

While studies on mind-body treatments aren't as prevalent as drug studies, researchers have begun to identify what actually works for fibromyalgia.

What are Mind-Body Treatments?

Mind-body treatments have gained more respect from the medical community in the past couple of decades, based largely on discoveries on how stress impacts your health as well as an increased understanding of the placebo effect of pain.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

Mind-body medicine focuses on: 

  • The interactions among the brain, the rest of the body, the mind, and behavior
  • The ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, experiential, and behavioral factors can directly affect health.

Mind-body treatments that have shown some promise in research for fibromyalgia include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Tai Chi and yoga
  • Hypnotherapy and guided imagery
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is, essentially, being aware or conscious of something. In the context of health and wellness, though, the definition is more accurately:

A mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.

Mindfulness has been found to help with numerous physiological illnesses and has been researched a little for fibromyalgia. A 2019 review of the available literature concluded that mindfulness-based interventions are "promising but uncertain" for people with fibromyalgia.

That promising research includes a 2017 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology. Researchers said that mindfulness meditation led to significant and lasting improvements in participants with fibromyalgia, including:

  • Symptomology
  • Pain perception
  • Sleep quality
  • Psychological distress

A benefit of mindfulness is that even if it doesn't work, it's not going to harm you in any way.

Tai Chi and Yoga

Tai Chi and yoga are both movement therapies that involve mindfulness, and they've both been show to benefit people with fibromyalgia.

A 2019 review of studies on Tai Chi for fibromyalgia concluded that Tai Chi was significantly more effective than standard care and recommended it as an alternative treatment. Researchers also stated that more large, high-quality trials were necessary to compare Tai Chi to other forms of exercise.

Looking at yoga for fibromyalgia, a 2016 pilot study found significant improvements when it came to:

  • Heat-pain tolerance
  • Heat-pain after-sensations (lingering effects)
  • Pressure pain threshold
  • Functional deficits, including balance and strength
  • Overall fibromyalgia symptoms
  • Pain coping

Another 2019 review noted positive results in movement and body-awareness therapies, which includes both Tai Chi and yoga, in people with fibromyalgia.

Hypnotherapy and Guided Imagery

You're probably somewhat familiar with the concept of hypnotherapy. It's frequently used to help people do things like quit smoking and lose weight. A hypnotherapist puts you in an extremely relaxed state and then uses the power of suggestion to trigger changes in your brain that are believed to improve both physical and mental health.

According to the highly respected medical website UpToDate:

Hypnotherapy was found to be better than physical therapy in 40 patients with refractory fibromyalgia. The hypnotherapy group demonstrated better outcome in parameters such as pain, fatigue, sleep and global assessment, although not in tender point examination.

Guided imagery is a technique that's used with hypotherapy. It involves words and/or music to evoke positive scenarios in your mind and bring about a beneficial effect.

A 2017 review states that its analysis endorses the effectiveness and tolerability of guided imagery during hypnosis for reducing the key symptoms of fibromyalgia. It also recommends combining hypnosis with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of short-term psychotherapy that is typically used to change the way you think of and behave toward something, such as sleep.

According to UpToDate:

CBT resulted in improvement in ten different target variables in 22 patients with fibromyalgia studied for a mean of 30 months after completion of the therapy. A small, randomized trial (n=47) found CBT for insomnia in patients with fibromyalgia significantly improved sleep quality compared to sleep hygiene instructions, or usual care.

For example, years of insomnia can create negative mental images of what it means to go to bed (i.e., frustration, anxiety rising pain levels), and that may cause you to stay up late and become stressed about even attempting to sleep. In CBT, a therapist would try to help you change your thoughts and attitudes about going to bed and also change your behavior by helping you establish and follow a better nighttime routine.

According to a study published in a 2017 edition of The Clinical Journal of Pain, CBT can normalize pain-related brain activity in fibromyalgia and lead to a reduction in pain.

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  3. Cheng CA, Chiu YW, Wu D, et al. Effectiveness of Tai Chi on fibromyalgia patients: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Oct;46:1-8. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.07.007

  4. Carson JW, Carson KM, Jones KD, Lancaster L, Mist SD. Mindful yoga pilot study shows modulation of abnormal pain processing in fibromyalgia patients. Int J Yoga Therap. 2016 Jan;26(1):93-100. doi:10.17761/1531-2054-26.1.93

  5. Bravo C, Skjaerven LH, Guitard Sein-Echaluce L, Catalan-Matamoros D. Effectiveness of movement and body awareness therapies in patients with fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2019 Oct;55(5):646-657. doi:10.23736/S1973-9087.19.05291-2

  6. Lazaridou A, Kim J, Cahalan CM, et al. Effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on brain connectivity supporting catastrophizing in fibromyalgia. Clin J Pain.  2017 Mar;33(3):215-221. doi:10.1097/AJP.0000000000000422

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