If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you know there’s no simple treatment that will keep your pain from flaring up. You might get some relief through medication, exercises, or cognitive behavioral therapy. However, if that’s not enough to control your symptoms, you may want to look to natural and alternative treatments.
“Fibromyalgia is a complex chronic and debilitating condition,” said David Virgil, MD, a family medicine specialist at Banner Health Center in Buckeye, Arizona. “So, it is very common for people to seek complementary and alternative options for their care."
For a lot of people, these therapies act as a gateway to a healthier overall lifestyle. “My patients who report the most benefit are those already doing lifestyle interventions such as moderate low-impact aerobic exercise, stress reduction, and an anti-inflammatory diet,” Dr. Virgil said.
Here are six complementary and alternative medicine approaches you can try, and the benefits you might see.
What it is: Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines postures and movements, breathing, and relaxation. It can have long-lasting benefits for easing fibromyalgia symptoms.
What the science says: A study published in the Journal of Pain Research asked women with fibromyalgia to attend a yoga class twice a week for eight weeks. Researchers reported improvements in pain levels, psychological functioning, and mindfulness.
What it is: Tai chi is a Chinese martial art form where you slowly move through a series of motions while focusing on your breathing. It’s gentle and almost anyone can do it. Like yoga, it offers lasting benefits for fibromyalgia.
What the science says: According to research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), tai chi is more effective than aerobic exercise for alleviating fibromyalgia symptoms. Tai chi works a lot like aerobic activities and allows patients to focus on maintaining good form in every pose. This is especially good because many people with fibromyalgia find they are too tired or in too much pain to exercise aerobically.
What it is: Massage is a treatment where a therapist rubs and kneads your muscles and soft tissues to reduce stress and alleviate pain. Dr. Virgil said massage can bring short-term relief.
What the science says: A meta-analysis of nine studies that included more than 400 people found massage is helpful in managing pain, anxiety, and depression in people with fibromyalgia.
What it is: Acupuncture is a technique where a practitioner inserts thin needles at specific points on your body. It originates with traditional Chinese medicine. According to Dr. Virgil, acupuncture can reduce your pain and fatigue and improve your energy and mood. An estimated 20 percent of people with fibromyalgia try acupuncture.
What the science says: A meta-analysis of 12 studies published in the Journal of Pain Research found that acupuncture was effective at relieving pain and improving quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.
What it is: Also called water therapy or “water cure,” hydrotherapy uses water to help improve health. There are lots of different types of hydrotherapy, from in-water workouts to steam baths.
What the science says: A 2019 study in the Journal of Pain Research found that both aquatic exercise and soaking in mineral water can help people with fibromyalgia by reducing their pain and fatigue and improving their quality of life.
What it is: Stretching is a gentle form of exercise where you lengthen your muscles to increase flexibility and range of motion.
What the science says: Researchers who reported their results in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine evaluated people with fibromyalgia. The participants stretched for 40 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks, following recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine. They found that stretching improved physical functioning and quality of life and reduced pain.
Are these treatments safe?
Dr. Virgil says that while most complementary and alternative therapies haven’t been evaluated specifically as fibromyalgia treatments, most are considered safe and effective. He recommends talking to your doctor to discuss conventional and alternative treatments for your fibromyalgia.
“Making a plan with your doctor who knows you and your health history can help minimize any potential problems that may arise from some of these therapies,” Dr. Virgil said. Your doctor can ensure that you try the best complementary and alternative therapies first and can help you navigate insurance coverage.