I recently came across an article in the March 2013 online issue of Prevention magazine. The title of the article was “Problem Solved: Fibromyalgia” and the subtitle read “What's new, what's natural and what's tried and true.” The article went on to list 12 treatments for fibromyalgia – five were classified as “new” treatments, three as natural remedies and four as tried and true methods.
You can imagine my reaction to the title – Problem Solved?! Really? Tell that to the more than 12 million people in the U.S. alone who continue to suffer with the pain of fibromyalgia every day. Although there are some inaccuracies and/or misleading statements in the article, what upsets me most is the title. The implication is that with so many treatment options to choose from, fibromyalgia is no longer a problem.
Not only is the title of the article wrong, it is hurtful. How many people who are already skeptical about fibromyalgia are going to wave this article in front of a loved one with FM and say, “See, I knew you were exaggerating. If you'd just try these treatments, you'd be fine.”
Don't get me wrong – the treatments listed in the article all have some legitimacy, but none are a cure. Actually most FM treatments fall into what I call the 30/30 rule: approximately 30% of patients who try them get a 30% reduction in pain or other FM symptoms. Hardly what I would call a solution to the problem.
12 Treatment Options: A Closer Look
Let's take a closer look at the 12 treatment options listed in the article:
New treatment: Magnesium – Magnesium is hardly a new treatment for FM. In fact, it was the first and only treatment recommended to me when I was finally diagnosed with FM 16 years ago. In 1995 Dr. I. Jon Russell and his research team found that combining magnesium and malic acid led to a reduction of pain for FM patients.
New treatment: Yoga – I've personally known people who have used yoga as a therapy for FM for about 15 years but to be fair, it has actually only been researched as a treatment option for FM for about five years. Studies do show that yoga can be beneficial in reducing FM symptoms.
New treatment: Biofeedback and breathing – Biofeedback has been used as a technique for treating FM since 1987. So like magnesium, it is hardly a new treatment. Although biofeedback is often found in lists of FM treatment options, it's not really discussed a great deal anymore. It can have some benefits in helping us better control our bodies' responses to pain.
New treatment: Tai chi – Although tai chi has been studied as a treatment option for FM for almost 10 years, the number of studies has increased in the past two or three years as tai chi has gain in popularity. Like yoga, it has been found to be beneficial for a number of FM patients.
New treatment: Acupuncture – I suspect the Chinese would laugh at the idea that acupuncture is considered a new treatment for fibromyalgia since they've been using it to treat FM and similar illnesses for centuries. Even in the U.S., acupuncture has been studied and used to relieve FM pain since the mid-1970s. Once again, this is not a new treatment for FM but it is gaining in popularity as a treatment for FM and a number of other chronic pain conditions.
Natural remedy: Massage – There are many different types of massage but as mentioned in the article, the one that seems to be the most effective for FM is myofascial release therapy. For me personally, myofascial release has been more beneficial than any other single treatment I have tried. It continues to be an important component of my ongoing FM treatment plan.
Natural remedy: Weight loss – This “remedy” is tricky. While it's logical to assume that losing weight would reduce pain because extra weight adds stress to the body, FM seems to have a metabolic component that makes losing weight extremely difficult. Not to mention the fact that some FM medications have a nasty side effect of weight gain. Many of us did not become overweight until after we developed FM and we are finding it nearly impossible to lose that weight. This natural remedy falls under the category “easier said than done.”
Natural remedy: Movement – The author of the Prevention article gets a gold star for calling this movement instead of exercise. While it can be difficult for people with FM to engage in traditional forms of exercise, most of us can gradually increase the time our bodies move each day. If we spend too much time sitting or lying down, our bodies become stiff and our pain increases. It's essential that we keep our bodies moving as much as possible – even if it's just short walks around the house.
Tried & true method: Antidepressants – Antidepressants have long been known to have pain-relieving properties. One of the earliest medications used to treat FM was the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline. Today two of the three FDA-approved drugs for FM – Cymbalta and Savella – are antidepressants. But like most medications, they only work for about 30 - 40% of patients.
Tried & true method: Talk therapy – The author uses the term “talk therapy” to describe cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions. CBT can be beneficial in helping patients learn how to better cope with pain.
Tried & true method: Anticonvulsant medication – The first drug to receive FDA approval for FM was the anticonvulsant Lyrica. Another anticonvulsant frequently prescribed off-label for FM is gabapentin (Neurontin). It is thought that anticonvulsants work by blocking the transmission of pain signals. But like the antidepressants, anticonvulsants only seem to work for about 30 - 40% of patients.
Tried & true method: Prescription painkillers – Although some people with FM do seem to be helped by opioid pain relievers, ongoing research is showing that for at least some people with FM, they don't help and may even result in increased pain. Given the increased government crackdown on opioid prescribing, it is probably best to try to go with other FM treatment options if at all possible.
Well, that's the list of treatments that have supposedly solved the problem of fibromyalgia. I use several of the treatments mentioned and am doing much better than I was 15 years ago––but I'm still a long way from normal. The problem of FM is still not solved for me. What about you? Have any of these treatments – alone or combined – solved the problem of fibromyalgia for you?
Published On: March 20, 2013