Fibromyalgia is a pain condition that affects between 2 and 10% of the population in the U.S. It generally affects more women than men at a ratio of 9:1. One way to treat not only the fibromyalgia pain, but also the stress and anxiety that may accompany it is trying float tanks for fibromyalgia.
How do float tanks for fibromyalgia work?
Flotation REST (reduced environmental stimuli therapy) was developed in the 1950s by John C. Lilly, M.D. It uses a water-filled tank that is approximately the size of a bed and heated to skin temperature. The water is saturated with Epsom salts so that the patient can float without any effort.
Patients remove their clothes, enter the tank, turn off the lights, and relax. The idea is that this sensation of zero stimuli will help a person focus inward, eliminating distractions and calming the mind and body.
The Fibromyalgia Floatation Project (FFP) believes that spending an hour in a float tank will help sufferers reduce pain significantly. The project selected fibromyalgia as the condition for their case studies because the symptoms of fibromyalgia match the potential benefits of REST.
Benefits of float tanks for fibromyalgia
The benefits of float tanks for fibromyalgia have been studied for several decades. They have been shown to include the following.
Relief of stress
Thomas H. Fine, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry of the Medical College of Ohio and Roderick A. Borrie, a clinical psychologist at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, New York, co-authored a seminal article examining the clinical effects of REST on the stress response.
They identified blood pressure, cortisol production, and muscle activity as key indicators of stress in the body. Their findings indicated that cortisol production decreased during floatation REST sessions and that:
“[There exists] the possibility of a resetting of the regulatory mechanism of cortisol across sessions. Furthermore, cortisol, which has received more attention than the other hormones [in its role as an indicator of stress], and blood pressure, have been shown to maintain the REST effect after cessation of repeated REST sessions (Turner & Fine, 1983). This phenomenon suggests that the REST effect may be more than a simple, immediately reversible response.”
Alleviation of depression and anxiety
Float tanks for fibromyalgia have been shown to alleviate depression and anxiety with the mood elevation effects of deep relaxation. Fine and Borrie found that the effects were most pronounced when flotation REST was utilized in conjunction with other forms of counseling.
They caution, however, that severely depressed patients may need close monitoring due to the sometimes obsessive nature of thinking that can occur in the flotation tank.
Promotion of better, more restful sleep
Relaxation alone equals better, more restful sleep, and the deep relaxation of float tanks for fibromyalgia can help. Many fibromyalgia patients also suffer from restless leg syndrome, so getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult.
Since fatigue can exacerbate symptoms of fibromyalgia, the sleep-promoting deep relaxation can be a vital benefit of flotation REST.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of float tanks for fibromyalgia is relief from pain. Fine and Borrie noted that:
“Flotation REST can have an important role at several stages of the pain management process. By reducing both muscle tension and pain in a relatively short time and without effort on the part of the patient, flotation provides a dramatic demonstration of the benefits of relaxation. Relief is immediate and, although temporary, offers promise of further relief from REST and other relaxation-based strategies.”
Many patients who have dealt with