News & Perspectives

Mind-Body Therapies Help Fibromyalgia Patients
What the Study Showed
This 1998 pilot study conducted by investigators at the University of Maryland found that weekly sessions that involved relaxation, movement therapy, and instruction on the mind-body connection were effective in treating fibromyalgia, a painful rheumatic disorder. Results were published in Alternative Therapies.

How It Was Done
Twenty individuals diagnosed with fibromyalgia completed this eight-week study. All took part in weekly, 2.5 hour sessions that consisted of three components. The first part involved 30 minutes of general education on how the mind influences the body, including practical guidance on how to achieve more control over pain and stress by making attitudinal changes.

The following hour was spent discussing and experimenting with meditation and relaxation techniques, especially mindfulness meditation. For example, participants were instructed to try to visualize the migration of painful sensations out of the body.

Finally, the last hour focused on a movement therapy known as qigong that involves slow, choreographed movements along with coordinated controlled breathing. Part of the goal was for participants to become comfortable with moving and even exercising gently, and realizing that this is possible without increasing pain.

At the beginning of the study and after eight weeks, the researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants' level of depression, coping techniques, pain, anxiety, and general health, as well as their ability to function day to day.

Why It's Important
Like studies that have shown promise with mind-body sessions in providing some relief from chronic back pain, these 20 women with fibromylagia seem to have benefited from this type of treatment as well. They reported significant reduction in pain (including the sensitivity of tender points), fatigue, and sleeplessness. In addition, their ability to function throughout the day, their mood, and their general health also improved.

These are promising findings for the many people who suffer from this often debilitating disorder of unknown cause. As the investigators point out, however, the study suffered from various design limitations, most notably that it was small and that the results were based on reports from the women themselves, not objective measures of pain and other symptoms. Clearly, more research is needed.

Date Published: 02/14/2000
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