Fibromyalgia is a chronic widespread pain disorder that affects approximately five million people in the U.S. While this disorder has no known cure, research is constantly searching for a fibromyalgia treatment that can help people manage pain more effectively.
1. Hyperbaric oxygen as a fibromyalgia treatment
Researchers at Rice University found that after just two months of use, all 48 study participants who spent time in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber as a fibromyalgia treatment reported less pain from fibromyalgia. Because the vast majority of fibromyalgia sufferers are women, researchers used only female study subjects.
Eshel Ben-Jacob, a lead author of the proof-of-concept study and adjunct professor of biosciences at Rice University, a senior investigator at Rice’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics and a professor of physics and member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, believes that this has everything to do with the way women’s brains read pain signals, noting:
“Symptoms in about 70 percent of the women who took part have to do with the interpretation of pain in their brains. They’re the ones who showed the most improvement with hyperbaric oxygen treatment. We found significant changes in their brain activity.”
Researchers were testing the efficacy on hyperbaric oxygen chambers for symptoms of traumatic brain injury and realized that patients who also had fibromyalgia realized a complete cessation of symptoms. Hyperbaric chambers push high levels of oxygen into a patient’s body, effectively hyper-oxygenating blood, which then travels to and through the brain.
Dr. Shai Efrati, lead author of the study, head of the research and development unit at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and a member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, believes that a fibromyalgia treatment should aim directly at the cause of the syndrome and not the symptoms alone, saying:
“The results are of significant importance since, unlike the current treatments offered for fibromyalgia patients, [hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT)] is not aiming for just symptomatic improvement. HBOT is aiming for the actual cause — the brain pathology responsible for the syndrome. It means that brain repair, including even neuronal regeneration, is possible even for chronic, long-lasting pain syndromes, and we can and should aim for that in any future treatment development.”
2. Tailored acupuncture
While acupuncture has often been recommended as a treatment option for many different pain disorders, a new study published in Acupuncture in Medicine has found that tailored acupuncture as a fibromyalgia treatment lessens the intensity and duration of pain, improves a patient’s ability to function, and generally improves the quality of their life.
Tailored acupuncture differs from other types of acupuncture because the placement of needles does not follow just one set pattern but is developed for each patient and their unique symptoms. Standard acupuncture has been shown to be about as effective as sham acupuncture, but study authors wanted to see if a more individualized approach might improve outcomes.
Over the ten-week course of treatment, those receiving tailored acupuncture reported pain scores that dropped by 41% (as compared to just 27% for those who received sham acupuncture).
Study authors noted:
“This treatment produced an improvement in the participants’ condition, reflected by a reduction in pain intensity and enhanced functional capacity and quality of life after the intervention and during the follow up period. Such an outcome has not been reported by previous studies following the application of standardised treatments: therefore, our results suggest that applying individualised treatment algorithms when starting a course of acupuncture may be important.”
With approximately 90% of fibromyalgia patients seeking out complementary fibromyalgia treatments, this research is important for those considering acupuncture as an option.
3. Drug targets for sleep intervention
Due to nighttime flare-ups of pain, many fibromyalgia patients have difficulty reaching the deep levels of sleep needed to get a good night of sleep. New research discoveries from the American Physiological Society (APS) are looking at what exactly might be going on in the brain to create targeted drug interventions specifically as a fibromyalgia treatment.
Researchers used computer models to observe brain patterns in simulated fibromyalgia patients and found that by altering three components of brain activity – GABAB currents, the potassium leak currents, and hyperpolarization-activated thalamic currents – they could deepen sleep.
Because there are no animal models of fibromyalgia available, manipulating a computer model can help researchers to find solutions to the problem of poor quality sleep in fibromyalgia patients. They found that just targeting one area had a profound effect, a discovery that may lead to specific drug interventions.
4. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation has gained traction as a treatment for everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression. Now research is proving that mindfulness meditation is more effective at relieving pain than a placebo.
Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center used brain imaging and patient pain ratings on 75 healthy study participants placed randomly in four groups: mindfulness meditation, placebo meditation (“sham” meditation), placebo analgesic cream (petroleum jelly), or control (no intervention). Brain scans of patients participating in mindfulness meditation showed unique patterns of brain activity.
Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead investigator of the study, noted that the results of the study were shocking:
“We were completely surprised by the findings. While we thought that there would be some overlap in brain regions between meditation and placebo, the findings from this study provide novel and objective evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces pain in a unique fashion.”
Mindfulness meditation appeared to act on the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex, two areas of the brain associated with the self-control of pain. The thalamus was also deactivated during mindfulness meditation, which may account for the 44% decrease in the emotional aspect of pain (as compared to 13% for the placebo group).
These four research findings indicate that the research community is becoming more committed to finding potential causes of fibromyalgia and new fibromyalgia treatments. Which development seems most promising to you?