When traditional western medicine isn’t providing enough benefit, many patients and physicians look to non-drug and “alternative” treatments. These are becoming more and more accepted within the medical community as adjunctive treatments, or even primary treatments, for many different diseases. Though they can be considered alone, they typically work best in fibromyalgia with medications. Remember, a multimodal approach is what works best for this condition.
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
A very important predictor of how patients with fibromyalgia will do in terms of pain, sleep, functioning, and disability is how negatively they think, or how catastrophic their thinking is (always thinking the worst of a situation; seeing the negative instead of the positive). Cognitive behavioral therapy can help change that. It is a type of psychotherapy that works on solving current problems and change unhelpful thinking and behavior. It is helpful for many conditions, including PTSD and depression (which can co-exist with fibromyalgia). The positive effects include reducing symptoms by reducing how hyper-reactive the nervous system is and by seeing symptoms as less distressing. Studies have shown that this therapy is mildly to moderately effective in treating fibromyalgia and has long lasting effects. Many would now consider this therapy as mainstream medicine as it’s widely accepted and prescribed by physicians as effective treatment for many conditions.
A German study published in 2015, titled “A Systematic Overview of Reviews for Complementary and Alternative Therapies in the Treatment of the Fibromyalgia Syndrome,” reviewed all prior studies that had been done on complementary and alternative treatments. This report found consistently positive results for tai chi (a series of slow, purposeful movements accompanied by deep breathing), yoga, meditation and mindfulness therapies, hypnosis or guided imagery, biofeedback (using your body’s heart rate or breathing to relax yourself) and hydrotherapy (pool therapy). Additionally, the report showed inconclusive results for qigong (similar to tai chi), acupuncture, chiropractic interventions, homeopathy and nutritional supplements.
Generally speaking, these therapies may help with sleep, to lower stress, and reduce pain, all of which is helpful to relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Patients often want to take a supplement to help with symptoms. The only one that has possible scientific support thus far is Vitamin D. It had been noted that a fair amount of fibromyalgia patients have low vitamin D levels. A 2014 article published in the medical journal “Pain” covered a study on the effects of Vitamin D on patients with Fibromyalgia. It was the first randomized controlled trial (meaning that neither patients nor investigators knew which patients were given vitamin D and which ones were given a placebo) to investigate whether there was a link between pain and vitamin D. The study showed that when patients’ levels were increased with supplementation compared to those who received only a sugar pill (placebo), a marked reduction in pain and an increase in functioning were noted. However, this was a small study with only 30 patients, so a larger study would be more meaningful. Other herbs and supplements are still undergoing studies, so at this point, I cannot say that any other supplements have been proven to be helpful without safety issues.