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Age Old Therapies Help Fibromyalgia Patients Find Relief

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Physicians in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Complementary Medicine Program (CMP) combine the best of Western and Eastern medicines to treat patients. The therapies are not new; in fact, they have been around for centuries. They are patient-centered and emphasize the patient/doctor relationship. The role of the physicians at CMP is to look at the scientific foundation for these alternative systems of care, then they can advocate for what works and what doesn’t and the ways they best “complement” traditional medicine. By terming these therapies as “complementary” and not “alternative,” physicians at CMP find that it encourages an attitude that does not pit one system against the other.

Whether it’s for arthritis, back pain, insomnia, or other painful chronic conditions, more Americans than ever before are seeking relief from health problems with solutions that traditionally have not been taught in medical schools. With this in mind, relieving and mitigating pain tops the CMP research agenda. One such research area is fibromyalgia (FM).

In a pilot study, researchers found that weekly sessions that involved relaxation, movement therapy, and instruction on the mind-body connection were effective in treating FM. Twenty FM patients took part in weekly, 2.5 hour sessions that consisted of 30 minutes of general education on how the mind influences the body, including practical guidance on how to achieve more control over pain and stress by making changes in your attitude. An additional hour was spent discussing and experimenting with meditation and relaxation techniques with patients trying to “visualize” moving pain out of the body. The last hour focused on a movement therapy known as Qigong, a Chinese discipline that involves gentle choreographed movements along with coordinated controlled breathing. Qigong accentuates flexibility, strength, and rhythm. Mind/body, mindfulness meditation relaxation teaches individuals ways to accept and deal with pain and alter their attitude toward it.

Results of the eight-week study were promising. Compared to when they began the study, patients reported a significant reduction in pain, fatigue and sleeplessness. In addition, their ability to function throughout the day, mood, and general health also improved. This and additional studies were documented and published in peer-reviewed journals.

The CMP program started small as a medical school project, operating within the University’s Pain Clinic. It was the first complementary medicine program in the country based at an academic medical institution. As a NIH Center for the Study of Complementary/ Alternative Therapies to Treat Pain, it has received approximately $9 million for research. It partners with other University entities, including the Center for the Study of Persistent Pain. Now, the CMP has found more than 12,000 journal citations in complementary medicine and pain alone. To date, this information has not been readily accessible in this country since it has been published in foreign languages and in journals or sources not indexed by MEDLINE (the National Library of Medicine’s database of medical literature.)

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