Mindfulness for Fibromyalgia

What It Is, What It Does

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Mindfulness is gaining traction as a fibromyalgia treatment, but do you know what mindfulness really means? Have you wondered whether it's a passing fad or something that really works?

It's easy to see why people interested in fibromyalgia—whether they have it, treat it, research it, or know someone with it—turn to complementary and alternative approaches: this condition is tough to treat. The best medications only help about a third of the people who try them, and the side effect risk is high.

Meanwhile, we battle dozens of unpredictable symptoms that can derail our lives in a moment, or leave us house-bound much of the time.

So when headlines begin to sing the praises of something that helps fibromyalgia while being safe, simple, and relatively inexpensive, people take notice. Often when this happens, there's little research to back it up.

However, mindfulness practices have made some in-roads with researchers and we're accumulating more knowledge all the time. That means you can look at the evidence and decide for yourself whether to invest the time and energy into it.

What Is Mindfulness?

At its most basic, mindfulness can be described as being conscious or aware of something. When it's used to describe certain practices, however, it's about focusing your awareness on the present; observing in a detached manner without judgement; and calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.

Once you get the hang of it, you can practice mindfulness anywhere at any time, but certain activities that work well for helping you develop mindfulness include:

Since mindfulness started being explored to improve health, multiple medically focused programs have been developed, such as:

Fibromyalgia Mindfulness Research

Research on mindfulness for fibromyalgia is in the early stages. However, much of it is promising. Information presented at the Italian Consensus Conference on Pain in Neurorehabilitation gave a recommendation grade of A for mindfulness interventions for chronic pain overall, and a C for fibromyalgia specifically. The lower grade is likely due to smaller, lower-quality studies.

Studies on treatments like this tend to be plagued by problems with methodology, size, and bias. Numerous reviews of mindfulness research note these shortcomings as well as problems with inadequately described practices.

So while we don't have definitive answers from research, there's at least a place to start.

A 2017 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology said mindfulness meditation led to significant and lasting improvements in participants with fibromyalgia, including:

Participants who spent more time meditating had better results.

 A 2015 study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine suggested that mindfulness-based stress reduction may reduce:

  • Perceived stress
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Symptom severity

Researchers noted, as in the above study, that those who practiced more saw more improvement. However, this study found no changes with pain levels or physical function.

A Frontiers in Psychology study looked at mindfulness training in relation to anger, anxiety, and depression in people with fibromyalgia. Researchers said the training did significantly reduce all three along with increasing internal control of anger.

A 2016 pilot study focused on mindful yoga noted significant improvements in:

  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Overall symptoms

Again, these studies should be viewed as preliminary—we still have much to learn.

Why Chose Mindfulness for Fibromyalgia?

When you have a condition like fibromyalgia, which can fluctuate wildly week to week, day to day, or even hour to hour, mindfulness may be extremely important. Many of us have early warning signs of a symptom increase in our bodies and minds. For one person, it may be pain in a particular spot. For another, it could be suddenly feeling distracted or mentally "out of it."

If you're aware enough of your body and what it's experiencing, you may be able to recognize these signs better and take appropriate action to head of a symptom spike or flare.

On top of that, we may have a tendency to focus on the negative. A 2014 study in Pain Medicine found evidence that people with fibromyalgia may have what's called an "attentional bias" toward negative information that appeared to be linked to pain severity. Researchers suggested that mindfulness training may help manage this trait and therefore reduce pain.

A Word from Verywell

If you think mindfulness could help you, the good news is that you don't have to wait for researchers to make up their minds about it. It's low-risk and something you can pursue either alone or through multiple types of training.

Sources:

Amutio A, Franco C, Perez-Fuentes Mde C, Gazquez JJ, Mercarder I. Mindfulness training for reducing anger, anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Frontiers in psychology. 2015 Jan 12;5:1572. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01572. eCollection 2014.

Carson JW, Carson KM, Jones KD, Lancaster L, Mist SD. Mindful yoga pilots study shows modulation of abnormal pain processing in fibromyalgia patients. International journal of yoga therapy. 2016 Sep 1. doi: 10.17761/IJYT2016_Research_Carson_Epub.

Cash E, Salmon P, Weissbecker I, et al. Mindfulness meditation alleviates fibromyalgia symptoms in women; results of a randomized clinical trial. Annals of behavioral medicine. 2015 Jun;49(3):319-30. doi: 10.1007/s12160-014-9665-0.

Castelnuovo G, Giusti EM, Manzoni GM, et al. Psychological treatments and psychotherapies in the neurorehabilitation of pain; evidences and recommendations from the Italian consensus conference on pain in neurorehabilitation. Frontiers in psychology. 2016 Feb 19;7:115. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00115. eCollection 2016.

Duschek S, Werner NS, Libert N, Winkelmann A, Montoya P. Attentional bias toward negative information in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome. Pain medicine. 2014 Apr;15(4):603-12. doi: 10.1111/pme.12360.

Van Gordon W, Shonin E, Dunn TJ, Garcia-Campayo J, Griffiths MD. Meditation awareness training for the treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome; a randomized controlled trial. British journal of health psychology. 2017 Feb;22(1):186-206. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12224.

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