A programme of meditation or yoga may not help if you’re suffering from Fibromyalgia, according to a recent study
The study, published in the journal Pain, looked at the effects of so-called “mindfulness-based stress reduction” – a technique combining mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga postures, delivered in the form of an eight-week programme of classes.
For the new study, researchers tested the programme’s effects among 177 women with fibromyalgia.
They found that women assigned to the mindfulness programme showed no greater gains in health-related quality of life than those assigned to a waiting list for treatment.
That meant no significant improvements in either physical symptoms or emotional well-being.
The precise cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. There are no physical symptoms – but some researchers believe the disorder involves problems in how the brain processes pain signals.
Standard treatments for fibromyalgia include painkillers, antidepressants, cognitive-behavioural therapy and exercise therapy. However, many fibromyalgia sufferers find that their symptoms persist despite treatment.
Researchers suspect that this may be because standard treatments do not specifically address the role psychological stress and emotions can play in triggering pain.
Studies have found that people with fibromyalgia have above average rates of stressful life events such as childhood abuse and marital problems. Evidence also suggests that they are less aware of their own emotions and have more difficulty holding on to positive feelings compared to those without fibromyalgia.
The idea behind mindfulness practices is that sufferers become more aware of how they are feeling, emotionally and physically, from moment to moment. Then they can start to see how their emotions affect their perceptions of their physical symptoms.
But maybe the problem is also that people with the disorder may need extra help in learning how to manage the emotions that come up when they meditate or practice mindfulness-based yoga.
A recent study of the “mind-body” approach to fibromyalgia suggested that patients can benefit from addressing their emotions. In that study of 45 women with fibromyalgia, about half of those who underwent a therapy called “affective self-awareness” reported a significant improvement in their pain over six months.
Affective self-awareness tries to get people to “directly engage” their emotions with the help of various techniques. Mindfulness meditation and “expressive” writing are two of them.
One possibility arising from the study is that only certain subsets of fibromyalgia patients stand to benefit from mindfulness-based therapies.
For example, Dr. Alex Zautra, a professor in psychology at Arizona State University, found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who also had a history of depression benefited more from mindfulness meditation than arthritis patients who had never battled depression.
It’s possible – though not proven – that a similar pattern exists for fibromyalgia patients.
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