Breathe Slow For Fibro Pain Management

A small study found that slow breathing may help people cope with emotional and physical symptoms engendered by chronic, moderate pain. The findings of this study have been published in the medical journal Pain. The researchers say that their findings lend support to the idea that meditation and the type of breathing practiced by yoga aficionados will ease the chronic pain accompanying fibromyalgia.

Lessened Pain in Fibro

The study consisted of measuring pain responses in 27 women suffering from the chronic pain condition known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) and in 25 healthy control subjects of the same age. Researchers had the women practice slow breathing. While the women did this type of breathing, a stimulus causing moderate pain was applied: short bursts of heat administered by a probe that was placed on their palms. The women reported that their pain lessened and they felt less emotional distress at the point where they slowed their breathing rate to half the normal rate. The positive effects were more significant and more constant among the control participants than in those women with fibromyalgia.

Coping Mechanism For Fibromyalgia Pain

But the researchers believe that slow breathing offers another coping mechanism to help with the pain of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. This is according to Dr. Alex J. Zautra, a professor of psychology at Tempe's Arizona State University. "What's really valuable is that we were able to put this yoga-like, meditation approach under the microscope," said Zautra.

The study didn't adhere to any type of formal breathing method, but simply looked at how the principles of breathing awareness might help change the way a person perceives and responds to pain. Now Zautra's team is studying how mindfulness meditation might be used as an adjunct to fibromyalgia treatment.

Fibromyalgia syndrome is manifested by widespread pain and is often accompanied by other conditions and symptoms including depression, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. Because the condition can't be diagnosed by standard lab tests, it's difficult for doctors to give credence to and diagnose the ailment. But researchers now believe that fibromyalgia is caused by abnormalities in the way the brain processes pain signals. In other words, as Zautra says, "It is not 'all in your head' but it may be in your brain."

Stressful Times

Zautra's theory is that slow breathing works by helping to balance out the activities of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

It is the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for activating the "fight or flight" response which occurs during stressful times. This is seen, for instance, through increased heart rate, perspiration, and blood pressure. The sympathetic nervous system acts as a kind of accelerator, while the parasympathetic nervous system acts as a brake.

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