4 Treatments for Fibromyalgia
Defining Fibromyalgia: Though classified as a disorder of the musculoskeletal system, the condition is now seen as a central nervous system problem. Symptoms include increased sensitivity to pain, achy and stiff joints, fatigue, and specific tender points on the back, chest, arms, and legs. Migraines, sleep disorders, and irritable bowel syndrome are also common complaints. Up to 3 percent of the population may suffer from fibromyalgia, but with no clear cause, the condition is difficult to diagnose.
Western Medicine Approach: A formal diagnosis for fibromyalgia didn’t exist until 1990, but now there are three FDA-approved meds to combat the pain. Still, says Nancy Klimas, MD, director of the Allergy and Immunology Clinic at the University of Miami, “there is much more to treatment than a pill.” Strategies are needed to improve sleep, stretch and restore symmetry to muscles that have been shortened by spasm, and raise overall conditioning through exercise.
Energy-Based Approach: Practitioners believe the root of fibromyalgia is a disturbance in nerves that blocks energy. The disturbance, says Devi S. Nambudripad, MD, PhD, and a licensed acupuncturist, is caused by sensitivities to substances ranging from pollen to vaccines to chemical agents in fabrics. Anxiety and depression may also play a part. Practitioners use acupuncture to release energy and allergy testing to identify problem substances.
Psychological Approach: “The pain of fibromyalgia is not caused by depression,” says Leonard Jason, PhD, professor of psychology at DePaul University, “but depression can deepen a patient’s experience of pain.” Mental health professionals may play a complementary role in treatment, but it’s a vital one. Cognitive behavioral therapy can relieve depression and help patients identify sources of stress that magnify their symptoms.
Nutrition-Based Approach: Fibromyalgia is a systemwide breakdown, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the nationwide Fibromyalgia & Fatigue Centers. After suffering from the disease in the 1970s, he developed his own protocol; in studies, patients improved by as much as 91 percent. He recommends supplements to help sufferers sleep, balance hormones, boost immunity, and improve nutrition. He also prescribes regular exercise.
My Recommendation: Because Western medicine was slow to accept fibromyalgia, it is behind in its work; this is an area where patients will want to take a serious look at alternative approaches. Energy-based medicine could offer some important advances in treatment over the next decade, but since it has yet to be tested by independent research, I think it’s premature to base your therapy solely on this approach. I’m more impressed by Teitelbaum’s supplement regimen, and not only because he has tested his theories: I’ve put patients on this program with very good results. I would add counseling, as it should always be a part of fibromyalgia treatment. If after a couple of months you don’t see improvement, talk to your doctor about drug therapy.