If you know anyone who has fibromyalgia, you might just think that they’re achy all the time—which they may be. But fibromyalgia is much more than that. Think of the last time you had the flu or a really bad cold with all-over aches and pains. Fibromyalgia feels more like that. And there’s more. People who struggle with fibromyalgia also may have disabling fatigue, chronic insomnia and depression. They may also suffer from headaches, memory issues, restless legs, an irritable bowel and hypersensitivity to noise, bright light and temperature.
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome, which means that it has a lot of different symptoms, but not everyone with fibromyalgia will experience every symptom or the same symptoms as someone else with this condition. In addition, fibromyalgia is characterized by a flare-up of symptoms interspersed with periods of remission. Flares can be triggered by a number of things including stress, weather changes or hormones. The cause of fibromyalgia isn’t entirely clear, but scientists suspect that it’s caused by a problem with how pain signals are transmitted and processed by your brain. They believe that in people with fibromyalgia, sensory signals are somehow amplified by the brain, intensifying pain, thermal and other sensory messages.
In Western medicine, fibromyalgia is often treated with pain relievers, anti-depressants or anti-seizure medications. However, many people who have this condition prefer not to take these medications, and look for more natural ways to manage their symptoms. The good news is that there are several natural treatments and lifestyle habits that can actually help with fibromyalgia symptoms in a meaningful way.
Fibromyalgia Natural Treatments
1) Massage Therapy. Because one of the primary symptoms of fibromyalgia is muscle pain, massage therapy can be incredibly helpful in relieving that pain. It helps to relax and loosen tight muscles and promote circulation. And massage therapy isn’t just about how well it reduces tension in painful and tight muscles—it can help promote better sleep and alleviate stress.
2) Acupuncture. It’s well-known that acupuncture can relieve a host of different kinds of pain, and fibromyalgia-related pain is no exception. Researchers who have studied the effects of acupuncture on patients with fibromyalgia have concluded that in addition to pain reduction, acupuncture can help improve sleep and alleviate fatigue. They also found that acupuncture that included electrical stimulation (in which a mild current was transmitted through the needles) was even more effective than acupuncture alone. Scientists have documented some of the ways that acupuncture works, which includes reducing inflammation, promoting increased circulation and triggering a release of neurotransmitters that reduce pain and produce a sense of calm.
3) Chinese Medicine. While Chinese medicine includes acupuncture, its scope and treatments go beyond that. Chinese medicine includes the use of herbal therapy, either as a way to support your acupuncture treatments or as a stand-alone therapy in its own right. Your practitioner can prescribe an herbal formula for you that not only addresses your symptoms, but also goes deeper to treat the underlying cause of the imbalance causing them. In addition to herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medical treatments may include a type of bodywork called Tui Na that focuses on acupuncture points and pathways, as well as cupping or Gua Sha—all treatments that focus on increasing circulation to relieve pain and stimulate healing.
4) Naturopathic Medicine. Naturopathic physicians as BodaHealth work with you to assess your health, including your nutritional status, hormonal levels, diet, digestion and the amount of toxic substances in your body. In treating your fibromyalgia they may prescribe vitamin, nutritional or herbal supplements; provide dietary advice and suggest lifestyle guidelines to help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, promote better sleep and support your mental health. They’re also able to order lab tests and prescribe Western medications, when necessary.
5) Light Therapy. At BodaHealth, we offer light therapy in the form of cold laser therapy, which uses low-level lasers to gently and painlessly penetrate deep into your body’s tissues to promote repair, increase collagen production and healing at the cellular level. Cold laser therapy can help with tight muscles, trigger points, scar tissue and other painful areas related to fibromyalgia.
6) Shockwave Therapy. This involves the use of acoustic (sound) waves transmitted to areas being treated. These waves are produced by a machine that converts compressed air into sound waves, which are then applied to the treatment area through a handheld device. Shock wave therapy can be beneficial for people with fibromyalgia because it helps to increase circulation, promote healing, break down scar tissue, loosen painful knots and trigger points, and help regenerate tissue that’s been damaged.
7) Getting Enough Sleep. When it comes to fibromyalgia, sleep can be a double-edged sword. A common symptom of fibromyalgia is insomnia and sleep problems, however, you need to get lots of sleep to help manage its symptoms. Scientists have discovered a link between fibromyalgia pain and not getting enough good quality sleep. The good news? At BodaHealth, we offer a number of therapies and strategies that can help you get good-quality sleep.
8) Regular Physical Activity. It can feel hard to get motivated to exercise when your body hurts, but research has shown that regular exercise can actually help you feel better. They found that doing aerobic exercise on a regular basis can help relieve pain, reduce fatigue and alleviate stiffness and poor range of motion—essentially improving your quality of life.
In addition, some scientists have suggested that slow and gentle movement practices, such as Yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong may provide benefits to people with fibromyalgia. That’s because these practices involve slow and controlled movements combined with meditation and focused breathing, which can promote relaxation and stress relief while helping your range of motion.
9) Nutritional Therapy. Your diet can play a role in your fibromyalgia symptoms, too. At BodaHealth our acupuncture practitioners, naturopathic physicians and holistic nutritionists all recognize that there is no one size fits all when it comes to diet. They can help you by assessing your current diet and providing dietary guidelines and supplements as a way to reduce inflammation and pain, relieve stress and help improve your mood.
Needless to say, fibromyalgia can present very differently for each person who suffers from it. However, that doesn’t mean that a lifetime of pain and prescription medications are a foregone conclusion. There are a number of natural therapies supported by research that can be effective ways to control fibromyalgia symptoms and reduce flare-ups. At BodaHealth, our practitioners are committed to offering the best in natural health care. If you’d like to know more about fibromyalgia and how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.