Fibromyalgia is the new name given to what used to be called fibrositis, a condition where the patient has tight and tender spots in his muscles and also bundles of muscle that feel like cords running through surrounding relaxed muscle. To qualify a
Besides pain, patients also frequently complain about tiredness, stiffness and sleep disturbance, poor memory or concentration, headaches, mood swings, dry eyes and mouth. Gastrointestinal and emotional problems have also been associated with the problem.
All that orthodox medicine has to offer are painkillers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), steroids or tranquillizers like diazepam (Valium), which act as muscle relaxants. Considering the proven association between NSAIDs and gut related problems like ulcers or mood swings with tranquillizers, it's difficult not to wonder how many of the associated symptoms of fibromyalgia are due to the "treatment". Another possible cause is the oral contraceptive pill (Dig Chiropractic Econ, 1991; 34 (3): 100-1.
Compared with medicine's answers, alternative medicine has a wealth of scientifically proven methods of treating the problem.
In homeopathy, in a double-blind trial, 24 patients with fibromyalgia were given one of three remedies (Arnica, Bryonia and Rhus tox) for three months. The results showed that homeopathy produced a "statistically significant improvement, but only when the remedy had been well indicated (Br Homoeopath J, 1986; 75 (3): 142-7). These results were confirmed by a later study (Br Med J, 1989; 299 (6695????): 365-6).
Electro-acupuncture, where acupuncture needles placed appropriately, are attached to electrodes for extra stimulation of pressure points, also has proven success. In one study, 70 patients were divided into two groups, with half given the acupuncture treatment and the other half, a sham procedure. The patients' improvement was measured according to a number of criteria, including pain threshold and number of painkillers used. In nearly all of them, the treated group showed significant improvement, while the controls showed none. The improvements continued for some months after treatment (Br Med J, 1992; 305 (6864???): 1249-52.
Massage therapy may also help. One study found a relationship between the degree of a patient's pain and an increase in the blood of myoglobin, a form of red blood cells found in the muscles. This suggests that myoglobin often leaks from the muscle fibres in patients with fibromyalgia. Out of 26 patients, 21 noted improvement after massage; after repeated treatment, patients experienced reduced pain, plus a gradual decline in the increase in blood myoglobin concentration (Scandinavian J Rheumatol, 1986; 15 (2): 174-8). .
As for hypnotherapy, it may be useful for relieving symptoms if other therapies haven't helped. One study comparing it with physical therapy showed that patients did better in the hypnotherapy group, in terms of pain reduction, fatigue, sleep and overall. Nevertheless, there were still problems with total muscle pain and discomfort in both groups (J Rheumatol, 1991; 18 (1) 72-5).
Other alternative approaches with scientific backing include naturopathic treatment, osteopathy, auricular acupuncture, biofeedback, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and even diode laser therapy. This suggests, as one researcher recently proposed, that using several alternative therapies together offers you the greatest prospect of a cure (J Chiropractic, 1994; 31 (11): 83-6).
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homeopath and osteopath.