Experts say that treatment for the chronic condition fibromyalgia requires physical exercise, pain management, stress management, and medication. Now research suggests that yoga, which combines the first three of those, should be recommended to fibromyalgia patients to deal with the illness. In the study, patients who practiced yoga showed both subjective and objective improvement of their symptoms.
It is estimated that between 11 million and 15 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a muscle condition that can cause pain, stiffness, fatigue, numbness in the extremities, sleep problems, stress, and poor memory. There are some doctors—though fewer than there once were—who question the validity of fibromyalgia as a diagnosis. Last month, however, researchers announced the discovery of what might be a central part of the mechanism by which fibromyalgia develops.
What they found is that fibromyalgia patients have lower μ-opioid receptor availability, meaning their brains don’t properly process pain. In addition, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, part of the brain’s pain prevention system, has unusual levels of activity in people with fibromyalgia. This means patients are not necessarily experiencing a greater amount of painful stimuli, but they are more sensitive to it. It also suggests why opiate-based pain medications may be less effective in the condition.
An earlier study explored the link between chronic pain and fatigue. It may seem straightforward that chronic pain would be tiring, but the biological connection seems to run in both directions—muscle fatigue leads to pain. The study found that a protein that is associated with muscle pain is also connected with fatigue. Moreover, testosterone reduces this effect, which is why fibromyalgia is predominantly seen in women.
Although opioid medications are not helpful in fibromyalgia, other painkillers are effective, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Although fibromyalgia has a physical cause, antidepressants seem to reduce the symptoms as well. Lifestyle remedies are also helpful. In addition to yoga, regular exercise eases the pain. Experts also recommend trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule and an overall healthy lifestyle.