Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain with tenderness in the muscles, ligaments and joints. People with Fibromyalgia syndrome often experience a high degree of fatigue, accompanied by disturbances in sleep, memory and mood. They are also plagued by overlapping inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, lupus and digestive issues like constipation and inflammatory bowel syndrome.
Pain associated with Fibromyalgia syndrome is typically widespread, present on both sides of the body, and located above and below the waist. When diagnosing Fibromyalgia syndrome, doctors assess 18 tender points by applying firm pressure to specific areas of the body including the back of the head, top of the shoulders, between shoulder blades, front sides of the neck, upper chest, outer elbows, upper hips, sides of hips and inner knees. Patients must experience tenderness in 11 or more of 18 tender points on the body to be diagnosed with Fibromyalgia syndrome.
Although the exact cause of Fibromyalgia syndrome remains unclear, research points to neuroendocrine and neurotransmitter dysregulation, where pain becomes amplified due to the inability of the central nervous system to properly process sensory stimuli. Neurotransmitters like serotonin and substance P are partly responsible for sending the brain signals. Typically with FMS, serotonin levels are lowand substance P levels are high. This results in elevated pain signals to the brain that create hypersensitive areas of tenderness and pain throughout the body, usually at the point of muscle insertion.
Western medicine has gone to great lengths to define FMS as disruptions in the aforementioned biological pathways. While this has proven quite useful in developing therapeutic drugs to treat FMS, experts agree that there is much sufferers can do with alternative treatments to alleviate FMS pain and concomitant conditions.
The holistic Indian medical practice of Ayurveda views Fibromyalgia syndrome as primarily a nervous system disorder characterized by disturbances in the wind and space elements. When these two elements are high, the energetic force of movement called Vata destabilizes the nervous system, creating hypersensitivity and pain. The imbalances in the Vata energy combined with toxic buildup in the body from poor digestion and stress are responsible for the intense pain and chronic reoccurrence of this disorder.
Ayurvedic Bodywork, Nutrition & Lifestyle for FMS
Ayurveda aims to strengthen digestion, relieve FMS associated constipation, and manage the effects of chronic stress. One of the holistic ways Ayurveda can accomplish this is with a purification process called panchakarma (5 actions) and bodywork. Panchakarma includes a series of digestive aids, along with the physical manipulation of the body, to remove toxins and balance Vata energies. In particular, herbal oil massage and sudation (sweating) are used to effectively calm the nervous system, sooth sensitive skin and alleviate sore muscles and joints in FMS sufferers. Skilled staff at Ayurveda wellness centers offers this bodywork under the supervision of a certified Ayurvedic practitioner. Daily self-massage by the individual using herbal sesame oil can also improve blood circulation and break up stagnant lymph that pools throughout the body.
Suggested holistic modifications in diet and lifestyle from an Ayurvedic practitioner are very helpful for patients suffering from FMS. Paying specific attention to eating seasonal, organic, unprocessed foods and avoiding FMS triggers significantly reduces environmental toxins and digestive upset. Nutritionally, Ayurveda recommends fresh vegetable and fruit juices, cooked vegetables, soups and spices like cumin, coriander, ginger and asafetida (hing) to stimulate digestion and relieve constipation associated with FMS. Drinking naturally cooling beverages, such as coconut water and coconut milk, can reduce excess heat in the body from inflammation. Avoiding hot, spicy, fried foods, excessive tea and coffee and alcohol is also advised.
Holistic lifestyle changes include avoiding taking daytime naps or staying up late at night, exercise and reducing stressful triggers in your home and work life. Since Vata is disturbed in FMS, having a regular, structured routine with balance will ground and stabilize the mind, body and spirit. Ayurveda also suggests a holistic approach to mental and physical fitness. Try to include a gentle daily yoga practice, meditation and breath control (pranayama), all of which are known to reduce stress and calm the nervous system, into this daily routine.
Ayurvedic Herbs & Spices for FMS
Ayurveda views food as medicine and suggests several kitchen herbs and spices to improve digestion, eliminate toxins and reduce the chronic pain associated with FMS. For pain and inflammation, individuals can take one half of a teaspoon or up to 500 mg of turmeric powder after each meal, per day, along with a glass of warm water. Incorporating members of the allium genus, like garlic, into meals helps to enhance immunity and detoxification. Also, using anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like ginger and chamomile in teas will help calm sore muscles and settle hypersensitive nerves.
Under the care of a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, individuals with FMS can delve further into Ayurvedic herbology to relieve their symptoms. A daily supplement of tripahala (three fruits), made of the amalaki, haritaki and bibitaki fruits, will cleanse the colon and restore much needed digestive balance. Some individuals, under the care of physician, may take licorice root to help support the endocrine system. Licorice root cannot be taken if an individual has hypertension, heart conditions, pregnancy, diabetes, hypokalemia, or low potassium, kidney disease, liver disease, erectile dysfunction, hormone-sensitive cancers, breast and prostate malignancies, so a physician’s approval is highly advised.
Lastly, certain tree resins called guggulus are very useful in treating joint pain and inflammation and a combination of ten herbs called dashmoola specifically targets Vata energies. Both may be recommended to FMS sufferers by certified Ayurvedic practitioners.
By: Julie A. Cerrato, PhD AP CYT CAT