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Alternative Treatments for Fibromyalgia

Acupuncture, Biofeedback, and Massage

Peer Reviewed

Alternative therapies work to heal your total being, which is why some fibromyalgia patients opt for them in treating their widespread symptoms. A variety of alternative options may ease your fibromyalgia pain—from acupuncture and biofeedback to herbal supplements and meditation.

Alternative medicine is just one treatment option for fibromyalgia. If you'd like to connect to articles about all the different ways to reduce fibromyalgia pain, read our article about all fibromyalgia treatments.

If you're considering these treatments, you should consult a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner. This title can be confusing—even though alternative medicine and complementary medicine follow the same methods, they are different in that alternative forms are used in place of conventional medicine, whereas complementary treatments are used with conventional medicine.

Below are common alternative treatments for fibromyalgia:

  • Acupuncture: There are multiple forms of acupuncture, but this ancient Chinese practice is rooted in the belief that everyone has an energy force called the Chi (sometimes spelled Qi, but both are pronounced "chee"). When the Chi is blocked or unbalanced, your body may respond with pain and illness. Traditional acupuncturists aim to free up Chi channels, known as meridians, by inserting extremely thin needles into specific points in your body's meridians.

    Based on your specific symptoms and pain, the practitioner will likely insert multiple needles that remain in for about 20-40 minutes.

    It has also been suggested that acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins into the blood stream. Simply put, endorphins are your body's natural pain relievers. As such, their release decreases your perception of pain.

    Similarly, electroacupuncture uses a needle hooked up to small wires that are connected to light electrical currents to stimulate your meridian points. Heat is often used as part of this therapy.
  • Biofeedback: This treatment works to reduce stress using a machine that measures the way your body responds to stress. The biofeedback machine has sensors that calculate muscle tension, body temperature, sweat production, heart rate, and other stress markers.

    While pain is a stress in itself, other stressors worsen your fibromyalgia. The goal of biofeedback is to determine how your body reacts to stress, and in turn, that knowledge will teach you how to control it.

    Some researchers believe fibromyalgia is caused by dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system, which is activated by stress. An over-active autonomic nervous system induces excessive hormones that sensitize pain receptors, causing pain and tenderness. Understanding how your body responds to stress using biofeedback may greatly reduce your symptoms.
  • Massage: A massage involves the stroking, kneading, and manipulation of your muscle tissues. When received regularly, massage may offer chronic pain relief.

    While massage is not a proven treatment for fibromyalgia, it's generally safe and free of side effects. However, massage may not be right for you if you suffer from osteoporosis, deep vein thrombosis, skin infections, open wounds, or arthritis at or near the area to be massaged.

    There are more than 100 types of massage techniques. A Swedish massage, for instance, uses long strokes to impact the superficial layers of your muscles. In contrast, a deep tissue massage uses direct pressure and slow strokes to impact your deep layers of muscle and relieve chronic muscular tension. Myofascial release is another option. This soft tissue therapy uses massage to stretch and manipulate your connective tissues, making them more flexible and increasing your range of motion.Your massage therapist will work with you to determine what specific massage will best reduce your pain.

You may also want to consider other alternative treatments, such as:

  • Herbal supplements: Sleep disorders are a typical fibromyalgia symptom, and herbal remedies (chamomile, kava kava, and valerian, to name a few) may provide a restful night's sleep. Herbal alternatives for pain include evening primrose, ginger, and white willow bark. Lemon balm may help ease chronic fatigue and stress, while eucalyptus may relax tired muscles.
  • Meditation: The goal of meditation is similar to that of biofeedback—to learn how to control your body's response to stress. Setting aside even five minutes a day to reflect and relax may prove beneficial in lifting your mood and reducing your pain.

When you start any new medical program, let your practitioner know if you have any health conditions besides your fibromyalgia pain. It's also important to note that these treatments are most effective when used as complementary treatments (that is, combined with conventional medicine).

Updated on: 02/28/13
Edward J. Kowlowitz, MD
This article was reviewed by Edward J. Kowlowitz, MD.
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