Fibromyalgia was once thought to be a strictly psychiatric disorder. Now it’s classified as a physical disorder.
Causes of fibromyalgia may include:
- stressful or traumatic events
- repetitive injuries
- certain diseases
- a malfunctioning of the central nervous system (CNS)
- an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain
Despite these physical origins, people with fibromyalgia can benefit from practicing mindfulness. A practice that encourages 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 goal: living in the present moment.
A person who practices mindfulness observes their own thoughts and feelings without reacting to them. They simply let the thoughts and feelings float in and out of the mind without judgment.
The goal of mindfulness training is to increase your ability to:
When pain is consistently part of your day, as is the case for many people with fibromyalgia, 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.
Mindfulness may also be able to help:
- inhibit the CNS’ ability to perceive pain
- reduce distressing thoughts and feelings that come with pain, which can keep the thoughts and feelings from making the pain worse
- enhance body awareness, which may lead to improved self-care
- promote deep muscle relaxation, which lessens tension and irritability
How does bringing the mind to the present and relaxing the body help you manage fibromyalgia symptoms? Scientists have a few theories.
It affects the nervous system
In a 2012 study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers suggest that mindfulness meditation may calm the sympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and creating a more relaxed body as a result.
It reduces stress and symptom severity
Fifty-one of the women were assigned to a program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which typically lasts 8 weeks. The participants spent 2.5 hours each week doing specific exercises such as attention-focusing techniques and yoga.
They were also encouraged to practice the techniques at home (for 45 minutes per day, 6 days a week) and taught how to do so. They were given a workbook and audiotapes too.
Pain and fatigue levels were analyzed in 39 women as part of the control group. The researchers didn’t find significant decreases in those symptoms at the end of the study.
However, 61 percent of participants in the mindfulness program reported decreased stress levels, and 75 percent reported reduced symptom severity.
On the other hand, 48 percent of the control group experienced decreased stress levels and 69 percent experienced reduced symptom severity.
Participants still experienced the benefits of mindfulness 2 months after the program ended.
People who spent more days practicing mindfulness techniques at home experienced greater symptom relief. These findings are in line with earlier studies on fibromyalgia and mindfulness, such as:
- a small 2007 study where women who completed an MBSR program (and mostly continued practicing mindfulness on their own) still experienced benefits like reduced pain, anxiety, and depression 3 years later
2010 studythat concluded that people felt less pain and had a higher quality of life after participating in an MBSR program
Many MBSR programs include yoga as a physical form of meditation. Yoga poses increase flexibility and strength while helping you focus on the breath and bring your mind to the present moment.
According to a 2010 study published in the journal Pain, yoga exercises may help reduce fibromyalgia pain. Women who participated in an 8-week yoga program experienced the following:
- 23.9 percent reduction in poor sleep
- 24.1 percent reduction in pain
- 29.9 percent reduction in fatigue
- 41.5 percent reduction in depression
In general, they saw a greater improvement in their symptoms than people who received standard medical care.
Recent research on fibromyalgia and yoga is limited, and the existing studies are relatively small.
However, a 2019 study found that practicing yoga daily for 6 weeks led to modest improvements in pain and sleep. People who spent more time practicing yoga at home saw a greater reduction in pain.
Researchers from a small 2011 study also found benefits with yoga. Twenty-two participants took a 75-minute yoga class twice weekly for 8 weeks. Results showed that people experienced less pain and had lower levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — in their blood after completing the program.
Researchers from all three of the studies also concluded that yoga reduced pain catastrophizing, a response that includes rumination, worrying, and other negative thinking. Pain catastrophizing is associated with a greater sensitivity to pain.
Mindfulness therapy combines meditation, yoga, and daily mindfulness exercises. Regular practice of these techniques is likely to help improve fibromyalgia symptoms.
These techniques can help you learn to direct your attention away from fibromyalgia pain. They can also help create a buffer against stress-related symptoms. In these and various ways, they target the mind, the body, and behavior to help create results.
If you have fibromyalgia, consider trying mindfulness therapy today.