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Relaxation therapy and fibromyalgia relief

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are widespread pain, chronic fatigue, constant stress and a state of anxiety. These symptoms can all be relieved by relaxation therapy.

Relaxation therapy and fibromyalgia
© Thinkstock

With different meditation and calming techniques, relaxation therapy helps people affected by fibromyalgia to wind down mentally and physically. It teaches them not to put up with pain and can notably improve quality of life.

How does relaxation therapy help with fibromyalgia?

Symptoms of fibromyalgia include widespread pain, chronic fatigue and a self-perpetuating state of anxiety. In dealing with all these symptoms at the same time, relaxation therapy stops the vicious cycle escalating.

Catherine Aliotta1, relaxation therapist, explains: “People who are affected by fibromyalgia are likely to reduce their activities for fear of suffering more. They isolate themselves and lose self-confidence. When they seek to practise relaxation therapy, it is often focused on the idea of relaxing itself, as stress amplifies the frequency and intensity of attacks. I show them certain exercises which can also reduce the feeling of pain as well.”

Dr Dominique Servant2, psychiatrist and stress specialist, confirms this: "relaxation therapy is the biggest way in which we can treat this condition, the physical pain as well as the psychological problems associated with it".

Which relaxation techniques are the best for fibromyalgia?

  • Dynamic relaxation: Similar to some practices in the Far East, muscle relaxation techniques come from dynamic relaxation, more specifically, from movement. These develop an awareness of the body and of the zones where you have unnecessary tension. “Dynamic relaxation is perfectly adapted for people suffering from fibromyalgia,” says Catherine Aliotta. “We teach them that movement doesn’t have to be painful, and can even be enjoyable.”

    An example exercise:
    Inhale, expanding the stomach, hold your breath, roll your shoulders gently backwards and forwards a few times, then exhale with your shoulders relaxed.
  • Deep breathing exercises: Catherine Aliotta states that, “Controlling your breathing slows down your heart beat, avoiding pangs of anxiety, notably when pain arises."

    An example exercise:
    Double the length of your exhalation over a few breaths. It is easy, and exhalation twice as long as usual, counting from inhalation, is sufficient.
  • Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation helps you to focus on enjoying all the sensations around you, including images, sounds and odours. There’s no need to concentrate on anything, just relax the mind and enjoy the present moment. This meditation can be performed while sitting quietly, or even while eating or walking. 

    An example exercise:
    Eat an apple slowly, breaking down your movements while being aware of each one of your senses, focusing on the colour, taste, texture, fragrance etc., keeping your attention on the apple.
  • Mental relaxation: Relaxation techniques are based on mental visualisation, a creative activity that changes levels of awareness, which in turn, leads to positive thoughts and a relaxed state. Among these techniques is the visualisation of a space you can take refuge in, and the mental realisation of acts you weren’t confident about so as to liberate inhibitions and mental barriers. “Guided by the voice of the therapist, the person visualises an image which he or she can work on to change perceptions,” explains Catherine Aliotta.

    An example exercise:
    If you visualise your pain as a knife blade, bright, red and sharp, the therapist will guide you towards imagining the knife blade to become blunt, soften and turn pink.

How can you learn relaxation therapy?

“All these exercises are easy to practice, each one has it’s own pace,” Catherie Aliotta reassures. She advises practicing meditation at least once a week with a therapist, individually at first, then in a group in order to maintain what you’ve gained.

Dr. Yves Ranty3, relaxologist and psychiatrist, has worked with people who suffer from severe fibromyalgia. According to him, “Individual meditation allows you to go further, and to choose the exercises which suit that specific patent the best.”

“To really feel the benefits, the best thing is to practise daily, for a few minutes each time, using a recording of the therapist’s voice to guide you if this is helpful,” adds Catherine Aliota.

What results can sufferers of fibromyalgia hope for?

Dr Ranty clarifies this for us: “Techniques that establish an altered state of awareness lead to biological changes, notably lowered levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisone), and can increase the secretion of endorphins. For me, there is no doubt that these practices improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, in particular when they are linked to psychotherapy.” 

“Relaxation therapy, teaches us to face our emotions and to tackle the illness differently so there is no need to suffer through the pain anymore. The sufferer gains self-confidence and has an improved quality of life. It is an excellent complimentary therapy,” concludes Dr Servant, expressing regret that this ‘effective and non-toxic’ practice is not used more often.

1. Interview with Catherine Aliotta, sophrolgist
2. Interview with psychiatrist and author, Dr Dominique Servant
3. Interview with psychiatrist-psychoanalyst and author, Dr Yves Ranty
4. “Nonpharmacologic treatment for fibromyalgia: patient education, cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and complementary and alternative medicine,” Afton L et al., Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2009 May; 35(2): 393-407.

Posted 31.05.2011

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