“Oh, my aching body!”
Some people simply hurt all over. Their muscles are extremely tender. They’re tired all the time. Their thinking can be fuzzy, and anxiety and depression are often lurking in the background. And the doctors can’t find anything wrong. All the lab tests come out negative. If that’s your life, it’s likely you have a condition known as fibromyalgia.
It’s a frustrating diagnosis, both for patients and for doctors. It’s vague and subjective. There’s nothing visible and no proof from a blood test. But fibromyalgia pain is very, very real. And it hurts! No one wants to live with fibromyalgia, so everyone is looking for a treatment.
Treatment is frustrating, too. We can drug fibromyalgia sufferers with tranquilizers and pain medications, with antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines, but those simply mask the problems. They make them tolerable, bearable perhaps, but they don’t fix anything. They don’t cure the fibromyalgia pain.
Drug companies are now exploring novel ways to tackle fibromyalgia’s new classification as a Central Sensitivity Syndrome, meaning that the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) processes information regarding pain and tenderness in abnormal ways.
But I say we should be working with the body naturally, with the mind naturally, to figure out how to “re-tweek” the pain processing back to its normal way. The central nervous system is “plastic” after all, meaning that it can continue to reorganize itself throughout life in response to environmental stimuli.
To do that, we first need to figure out what things in our environment have contributed to the abnormal pain processing. Inflammation may be key, as fibromyalgia pain occurs in unusually high frequency in patients with auto-immune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis as well as some chronic viral infections like hepatitis C. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet such as the one promoted by Dr. Andrew Weil.
Another key may be in the way we process stress. Both principal effectors of the stress response, the hypothalamus and pituitary axis as well as the sympathetic nervous system, are over-activated, or functioning abnormally, in fibromyalgia. For this, Yoga can help fibromyalgia pain tons. We know that Yoga lowers stress through both pathways.
A new randomized, controlled study of Yoga for fibromyalgia was just published in the journal, Pain. The authors, based at a university in Oregon, looked at 53 female fibromyalgia patients who were either placed in an 8-week Yoga program (gentle asanas, meditation, pranayama, group discussions and Yoga-based coping skills instructions) or placed on a waiting list with only standard care for treatment. The women in the once-per-week Yoga program showed significantly greater improvements than the control group that was wait-listed. They had less pain, less fatigue, improved mood, and they felt they could cope better with their remaining symptoms. So, this study and several others prove that you should definitely try yoga to treat fibromyalgia. I will consider how to treat fibromyalgia with yoga properly in the next article.