November 13, 2019

Can Tai Chi Ease the Symtoms of Fibromyalgia?

A recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine contains a study suggesting that Tai Chi may ease the pain and discomfort associated with fibromyalgia.    Tai Chi, the ancient practice of slow movement, breathing and meditation may reduce pain because of its focus on the mind-body connection.

The NEJM study looked at a small group of trial participants and focused on only one type of Tai Chi – researchers are planning larger scale trials and evaluations of different schools of Tai Chi.

Still, this study offers promising hope that this ancient and inexpensive therapy may improve the lives of thousands of fibromyalgia sufferers.

Reduced estrogen levels may worsen pain associated with fibromyalgia

Although men and women can be equal in many things, there are just some areas where the two sexes differ radically. One of those areas is in the development and pain associated with chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia. And, it is not because women have a lower threshold for pain, either. A new study has found that fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and interstitial cystitis symptoms all worsen with the onset of menstruation.

The researchers theorized that because migraines are an autonomic disorder like fibromyalgia and they seem to worsen and occur more frequently around the time of menstruation, that perhaps fibromyalgia and other autonomic disorders would also have this variation. According to WebMD, all of these disorders stem from the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that controls various bodily functions. The researchers decided to evaluate a questionnaire that was completed by seventy-seven women diagnosed with fibromyalgia and various numbers of women who suffered from other conditions. The women were supposed to report on their symptoms throughout the month. At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that eighteen percent of the fibromyalgia sufferers reported an increase in severity and frequency of their symptoms just before and during their periods.

In an effort to determine an explanation for this rise in pain, the researchers theorize that it must have something to do with fluctuating hormone levels. WebMD reports that estrogen prevents pain; however, it is at very low levels right before and during a woman’s menstruation. This belief is shored up by the report that fifteen percent of women had increased pain at the time of menopause when estrogen is also very low.

The study was not without its problems, however. Many women reported no change in their symptoms at all around their period and other women reported that the fibromyalgia pain was the worst during their first period. These inconsistencies could not be explained by the researchers and will likely lead to additional studies on the topic of hormone fluctuations impacting pain.

You can also conduct your own self study to determine if your fibromyalgia pain worsens before and during your period. Keep a journal, detailing your symptoms, and what other events are occurring in your life. Try to determine if your period impacts your symptoms and if so, you may discuss various options with your doctor, including taking an estrogen supplement or the birth control pill, both of which increase estrogen production.

Vibration therapy may help reduce balance problems associated with fibromyalgia

So many times chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia cause problems with daily living that most of us take for granted.  Fibromyalgia is most known for the debilitating pain that it causes, which can greatly impact an individual’s quality of life.  She can be in pain all over her body or in specific areas and be unable to work, go to school, or simply engage in daily activities such as cooking, walking the dog, or playing with a child.  Aside from the pain, however, fibromyalgia is also responsible for decreasing an individual’s balance, especially in women.  Now, according to Reuters, a study has shown how tilt platform vibration may be able to improve overall balance for fibromyalgia patients.

This new study is important because a lack of balance, coupled with crippling pain, can lead to many accidents and falls.  The condition is difficult on its own without having to then worry about falling on top of it.  The researchers noted that approximately half of those individuals living with fibromyalgia suffer with poor balance.  They also knew that tilt platform vibration improved balance, bone mass, and motor skills in elderly individuals, therefore, they wanted to test it with fibromyalgia participants.  The Spanish research team separated forty-one women, ages forty-one to sixty-five, with fibromyalgia into two groups.  Twenty-one were provided with vibration therapy, while the other twenty received their normal treatment regime without the vibration therapy.

Those who received the vibration therapy had three sessions with the platform providing vibration at a low frequency for twelve weeks.  They had a ten minute walking warm-up and up to six repetitions with the tilt platform.  The researchers found that the dynamic balance index improved by thirty-six percent in the vibration therapy group, while it remained the same in the control group.  Additionally and most welcome is that the women who weighed the most and had the worst balance saw the greatest improvement.

The researchers also believe that the vibration therapy slows bone mass loss and improves strength, which helps individuals to respond better to falling or the loss of balance.  They do note that more studies will be needed to see if the vibration therapy also reduces pain associated with fibromyalgia, as well as if the number of overall falls decreases.  If your balance has suffered as a result of fibromyalgia, you may want to discuss this type of physical therapy with your doctor.  It may just help you to better “balance” the effects of this chronic condition.