Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by diffuse pain in the muscles accompanied by tender points on various places on the body, such as the neck, shoulders, back, hips and extremities. Patients often describe the pain as a constant dull ache. The condition may be accompanied by fatigue, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, abdominal cramping and headaches.
Pharmacologic treatments have their place in the pain management of fibromyalgia, but the best philosophy is to treat the root cause, not just mask the symptoms. Since chronic stress is one of the most common precipitating factors, stress release and relaxation strategies are paramount in the treatment of fibromyalgia.
“We should be cautious about overmedicating patients and keeping them on continued medications. We worry about the side effects. Non-pharmacologic therapies have no risks,” states Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, a rheumatologist at McGill University in Montreal.
Mind-body therapies such as meditation, massage, yoga and deep-breathing exercises are non-pharmacologic therapies that can be helpful relaxation techniques for treating fibromyalgia. Interventions such as intentional or mindful breathing exercises and movement may decrease anxiety and depression, as well as increase a sense of well-being, which may dampen the sensation of pain and decrease pain flare-ups.
A counselor or therapist can teach strategies for stress management.
Tai chi may also be a helpful intervention. It combines meditation with a series of movements performed in a slow, graceful manner accompanied by deep breathing and relaxation. These movements are thought to move qi, or vital/life force, throughout the body in a smooth and balanced flow along pathways called meridians. Research supports that tai chi increases a sense of calm, peace, stress reduction and quality of life for fibromyalgia patients.
For those suffering with fibromyalgia, incorporating relaxation techniques can improve quality of life. Committing to a relaxation routine is a declaration of self-love and self-care. We all should have the courage to love ourselves enough to commit.
“Relaxation strategies are paramount in the treatment of fibromyalgia.”