Fibromyalgia was once thought to be strictly a psychiatric problem. Now, it is classified as a physical disorder. Causes may include:
- stressful or traumatic events
- repetitive injuries
- certain diseases
- a malfunction of the central nervous system
- an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain
Despite these physical origins, people with fibromyalgia can benefit from practicing mindfulness. A practice that helps one to focus on the present moment, mindfulness can help relieve pain and improve quality of life.
Mindfulness has a number of different definitions, but they all point to the same idea: living in the present moment. One who practices mindfulness observes thoughts and feelings without reacting to them. They simply let them float in and out of the mind without judgment.
The goal of mindfulness training is to increase your ability to be calm, to think clearly, and to manage stress throughout the day. For someone with fibromyalgia, that could mean being able to control flare-ups and reduce pain.
When pain is consistently part of your day, you can start to dwell on it. You may feel stress and anxiety about the pain you’re feeling now, as well as pain that may occur in the future.
Mindfulness may lead to changes in the brain that provide benefits for those with fibromyalgia. Several studies examining the connection between mindfulness and pain have shown positive results.
A study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics assigned patients to an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). The participants spent 2.5 hours each week doing specific exercises such as formal mindfulness practices and yoga. A control group spent the time doing relaxation training and gentle stretching exercises.
Results showed that the MSBR program was much more effective at reducing and helping people cope with pain, anxiety, and depression. Patients were still experiencing improvements in well-being three years later.
How does bringing the mind to the present and relaxing the body help manage fibromyalgia symptoms? Scientists have several theories. In a report in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, doctors suggest that mindfulness meditation may calm the sympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and creating a more relaxed body.
In a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Science, researchers found that patients with fibromyalgia felt less pain and a higher quality of life after participating in a MBSR program. They theorized that mindfulness practice may help in various ways.
Mindfulness may be able to:
- help patients learn to direct their attention away from pain
- inhibit the central nervous system’s ability to perceive pain
- reduce distressing thoughts and feelings that come with pain, which can keep them from making the pain worse
- enhance body awareness, which may lead to improved self-care
- promote deep muscle relaxation, lessening tension and irritability
- create a buffer against stress-related symptoms
Many MBSR programs include yoga as a physical form of meditation. Patients practice poses that increase flexibility and strength, while focusing on the breath and bringing the mind to the present moment.
Research published in the journal Pain has found that yoga exercises may help reduce fibromyalgia pain. Women who participated in an eight-week yoga program experienced the following results:
- 24 percent less pain
- 30 percent less fatigue
- 42 percent less depression
- improved sleep
- improved energy
A study in the Journal of Pain Research also found benefits with yoga. Participants took a 75-minute yoga class twice weekly for eight weeks. Results showed that people experienced less pain. They also had lower levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — in their blood after completing the program.
Another study in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy found that a mindfulness program including yoga could help fibromyalgia patients get more out of life. Patients who participated in both yoga and meditation reported less stiffness, anxiety, and depression. More importantly, they had more “feel good” days, and missed fewer days of work.
Meditation is a big part of most MBSR programs. Those who practice it work on focusing and gaining distance from the constant chatter of the mind. In a study published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, patients who participated in mindfulness-based meditation experienced improvements in pain, fatigue, sleep, and overall well-being.
Researchers stated that mindfulness meditation combines the benefits of meditation with cognitive therapy, triggering relaxation.
Mindfulness therapy combines meditation, yoga, and daily mindfulness exercises. In this way, it targets mind, body, and behavior to create results. Daily practice of all three techniques is likely to help improve your fibromyalgia symptoms.