The term "complementary therapy" implies the use of these therapies alongside other treatments and is not meant to replace medical treatment.
Researchers have evaluated a variety of complementary therapies as possible additions to conventional treatment for fibromyalgia. Keep in mind that every patient is different and may have an atypical response to a particular therapy. Not all these therapies are suitable for everyone.
The following complementary therapies have been found to be effective in reducing various symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide.
Osteopathic Therapy: Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) regard the body as an integrated whole, rather than treating for specific symptoms only. DOs are licensed in all 50 states to practice medicine and surgery as well as to prescribe medications. Osteopathy is a patient-centered, health-oriented approach that includes the utilization of manual diagnosis and treatment as a complement to medication, counseling, and nutritional advice. Articulatory techniques are mainly used to treat the ligaments and muscles, and thrusts are primarily used to treat the spinal area. "The osteopathic philosophy involves treating the mind, body, and spirit. It's a more holistic approach," says Michael Jonesco, DO, of Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus. "For the patient, the osteopathic approach is less about prescribing medications and medical procedures and more on the body trying to heal."
Chiropractic Care: Chiropractors use gentle adjustments to the spine to remove subluxations (misalignment of the vertebrae in the spine). These subluxations hinder the optimal function of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, sensory organs and a network of nerve cells and fibers that transmit signals from different parts of the body. When subluxations thwart this communication between the brain and the body, health issues can arise. Studies have linked chiropractic care and management of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as pain, fatigue, and quality of sleep. One study found that "chiropractic management improved patients' cervical and lumbar ranges of motion, straight-leg raise, and reported pain levels."
Massage Therapy: A fibromyalgia massage may range from deep pressure to light stroking depending on the needs of the person receiving the massage. It involves gentle manipulation of the body to increase the range of motion, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and relieve pain.
The following types of massage have been shown to help with fibromyalgia symptoms.
- Myofascial Release: A 2010 study demonstrated that myofascial release therapy reduces the sensitivity to pain at tender points in patients with fibromyalgia, improving their pain perception. This type of massage treats muscle pain and stiffness by relaxing contracted muscles, improving blood flow, and stimulating the "stretch reflex" in muscles. Release of fascial restrictions in these patients also reduced anxiety levels and improved quality of sleep, physical function, and physical role.
- Connective Tissue Massage: This type of fibromyalgia massage uses slower strokes with more pressure to release deeper layers of muscle and fascia (connective tissue). A random study of 48 individuals diagnosed with fibromyalgia shows that a series of 15 treatments with connective tissue massage conveyed a pain-relieving effect of 37%, reduced depression and the use of analgesics, and positively affected the quality of life.
- Shiatsu Massage: This type of massage targets pressure points in the hands, fingers, and knuckles to stimulate the body to relax and relieve pain. Shiatsu can be an ideal massage for someone with fibromyalgia because it avoids direct contact with the muscles and major joints, usually the parts of the body where you are experiencing the most pain.
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage: This gentle massage is different than other types of massage. It is designed to aid in the natural drainage of lymphatic fluid, which is responsible for circulating through the body's lymph system, carrying waste products away from the tissues. This system works by movement of skeletal muscles and contraction of the "smooth muscle" in the walls of lymph vessels. This fibromyalgia massage uses rhythmic motions to get the lymph fluid moving. Several studies indicate that MLD yields positive results in terms of pain relief, stiffness, sleep, and general health status.
So which massage therapy works best for fibromyalgia?
A 2014 review of medical literature revealed that myofascial release had a significant, positive effect on pain and some positive impact on anxiety, depression, fatigue, quality of life, and stiffness. Connective tissue massage was found to improve depression and quality of life. However, manual lymph drainage appeared to be more effective than connective tissue massage for stiffness, depression, and quality of life. Shiatsu was found to improve pain, pressure pain threshold, fatigue, sleep, and quality of life.
Acupuncture: An ancient branch of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture involves inserting sterile ultra-fine needles, into the skin at specific acupoints. The stimulation of these points is said to balance the energy or "qi" (pronounced Chee) within specific meridian of the body. Researchers have done numerous studies on the use of acupuncture for fibromyalgia. Most found at least some degree of effectiveness for relieving pain, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Although most often thought of as a treatment for pain, acupuncture can be effective to treat and prevent chronic pain, period pain, migraines, childbirth, and many more.
Reflexology: This works on the same principle as acupuncture; by applying pressure to specific points on the feet or hands, any blockages in the energy channels can be cleared, and the body can be stimulated to heal itself. Reflexology can be used to treat a wide range of symptoms, such as anxiety, backache, headaches and period pains, but can also be used to maintain good health and as a form of preventative medicine. During a reflexology session, you sit in a relaxing position. You remove your shoes and socks and then a reflexologist works on one foot and then the other, stimulating key areas. A reflexologist sole purpose is to rejuvenate and restore the body's natural healing abilities.
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