5 Relaxation Techniques for Fibromyalgia Pain Management

Research suggests that fibromyalgia pain management techniques should involve breathing exercises, stress reduction, Tai Chi or qigong.

fibromyalgia pain management

Many relaxation techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system and can help to manage fibromyalgia symptoms.

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Fibromyalgia causes patients seemingly unexplainable pain that often prevents them from being able to work or pursue leisure activities. Although drug therapy helps some patients, medications can produce side effects like nausea, edema, weight gain, and increased heart rate.[1] Research suggests that natural relaxation techniques play a key role in fibromyalgia pain management.

Differences in Sensory Processing in Fibromyalgia Patients

Brain imaging studies have shown that sensory processing might be impaired in patients with fibromyalgia and other similar disorders like chronic fatigue syndrome.[2] One theory is that there is a lack of parasympathetic activity in fibromyalgia patients. The parasympathetic nervous system is a branch of the nervous system responsible for stimulating activities that occur when our body is at rest, and helps to down-regulated negative emotion and painful experiences. This deficit in parasympathetic activity may lead to increased reactivity to stimuli and ultimately higher levels of pain. One of the keys to fibromyalgia pain management may be to help stimulate parasympathetic activity.[3] 

Natural Fibromyalgia Pain Management Strategies

Many relaxation techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system[4] and can help to manage fibromyalgia symptoms. For example, slow breathing produces changes in the body that encourage parasympathetic activity,[3] while mindfulness practices are even associated with changes in specific brain areas.[2] So what strategies can you try to help manage your fibromyalgia pain?

  1. Slow breathing can affect our reaction to pain stimuli. A study in the journal Pain found that the pain intensity and unpleasantness reported by subjects given painful heat pulses were decreased if the subjects were guided to breath at a slow pace. Although the study found that fibromyalgia patients had a harder time using breathing to modulate their pain reaction, it suggests that reduced breathing rates may be a good adjunctive therapy for managing pain in fibromyalgia patients.[3]
  2. Mindfulness practice. A study in 2013 investigated the effects of incorporating a mindfulness-based stress reduction group program into treatment of patients with somatization disorders. These included fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. The study found that mental training promoting “non-judgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experience” was a feasible and acceptable treatment for these disorders.[2]
  3. Meditation. A review article found that most results from previous studies resulted in improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms in patients who were given a meditation-based practice as an intervention.5]
  4. Tai chi incorporates deep, diaphragmatic breathing into a gently whole-body exercise that promotes flexibility, balance, and overall health. Many studies have shown that tai chi is beneficial in helping to relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia, including pain and mental health-related symptoms.[6]
  5. Qigong is a traditional Chinese exercise that combines physical movement, breathing exercises, and meditation. Many people use qigong as a therapy for fibromyalgia, and although there have been many promising research studies, reviews have so far been unable to confirm the efficacy of this therapy. Authors of one review do conclude, however, that “qigong has proved effective for physical conditions and psychological well-being, which could make it a valuable treatment option for fibromyalgia patients.”[7]

Taken together, this research suggests that finding ways to relax, breath deeper, and calm your mind and body are likely to help your fibromyalgia symptoms. Try these strategies today to find relief from your pain.

Share Your Experience

What are your favorite relaxation techniques? Do you find that any of these strategies help to relieve your fibromyalgia symptoms? Share your story in the comments section below.

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This article was originally published in 2014. It is regularly updated. 

[1] J Pain Res. 2013;6:247-60.

[2] J Psychosom Res. 2013 Jan;74(1):31-40.

[3] Pain. 2010 Apr;149(1):12-8.

[4] Complement Ther Med. 2013 Oct;21(5):481-6.

[5] Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2012 Oct;16(5):383-7.

[6] Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:502131.

[7] Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:635182.

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