CAM(eo) Appearances

So, you have a diagnosis and you’re armed with a brand new prescription from you doctor (as we discussed yesterday).Your doctor (and the medication he prescribes) is considered part of conventional medicine.

If you also visit a chiropractor or acupuncturist for treatment, you’d be in the field of complementary and alternative medicine – CAM for short.

CAM tries to prevent and treat different conditions with techniques such as:

  • healing touch
  • energy
  • herbal medicines

Many CAM therapies have been around for centuries. But do they really work?

There is research to show that some CAM techniques can help with problems like pain and nausea. But other alternative therapies don’t have enough medical evidence to determine if they are effective.

Acupuncture

203. acupunctureWhat it is: This traditional Chinese medicine technique uses thin needles to stimulate various points around the body. Each point corresponds to a specific condition. The aim of acupuncture is to restore a balance of energy and good health to the body.

The evidence: Many of acupuncture’s benefits still haven’t been confirmed. That’s because more studies on acupuncture need to be performed. But evidence suggests that acupuncture may help ease some chronic pain conditions, including:

  • headaches
  • low back pain
  • osteoarthritis of the knee

Chiropractic Medicine

imagesWhat it is: Chiropractors specialize in adjustments – manipulating the spine to put the body into better alignment. People typically visit the chiropractor when they have pain in their lower back, shoulders, and neck. But many chiropractors claim adjustments can also improve overall health.

The evidence: Chiropractic medicine does seem to provide some relief for lower back pain. But it may not be any better than other back pain treatments.

Studies have also found the technique effective for:

  • migraine and neck-related headaches
  • neck pain
  • joint conditions
  • whiplash

But there isn’t much data on the effectiveness of chiropractic medicine for FM.

Energy Therapies

Energy therapies use magnets and therapeutic touch to manipulate the body’s energy fields and improve health.

Here’s a round-up of some common energy therapies:

Magnetic Field Therapy

What it is: Magnets are thought by some to have healing abilities. Centuries ago, people believed magnets could treat everything from gout to baldness. Today, they’re worn inside bracelets, shoes, and other accessories.

The evidence: There’s no conclusive evidence that magnets are effective pain relievers. There are a series of studies currently looking at a magnet therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation which may help manage the symptoms of FM. Any results are preliminary. More study is needed to see if the therapy is effective.

Magnets are generally safe. But they can disrupt the function of pacemakers, defibrillators, and insulin pumps. That makes them potentially dangerous for anyone who uses these devices.

Reiki

reiki-handsWhat it is: The premise of Reiki is that it accesses the body’s natural energy to speed healing. The practitioner hovers his or her hands over the patient’s body. Or he or she places them lightly on the person’s skin.

The evidence: There is something to be said for the healing touch when it comes to bringing about a state of calm. One study showed that Reiki was effective in bringing about an increase in:

  • happiness
  • relaxation
  • feeling of calm

Therapeutic Touch

What it is: Advocates of this technique suggest that the power of touch may direct energy flow and treat pain and disease.

The evidence: It’s hard to tell for sure whether therapeutic touch works. There have been few good studies done on this technique. Researchers have investigated its effects on wound healing, pain, and anxiety. But most studies had mixed results. There is no conclusive evidence of effectiveness.

Herbal Medicine

Plants form the foundation of herbal medicine. They’re taken in several forms including pills, powders, or extracts to treat a variety of conditions. Herbal medicine can be divided into three types:

Ayurvedic

What it is: Ayurvedic medicine originated in India more than 2,000 years ago. It focuses on balance of the mind, body, and spirit. Hundreds of different herbs are used to:

  • protect the body against disease
  • relieve pain
  • improve general health

The evidence: Most studies performed have been small. They cannot provide conclusive evidence that Ayurvedic herbal medicine works.

There’s also a serious caution to using Ayurvedic products. One study found that Ayurvedic herbal medicines from South Asia had dangerously high levels of:

  • lead
  • mercury
  • arsenic

Chinese

12882850-chinese-food-therapy-traditional-chinese-herbal-medicineWhat it is: Chinese herbal medicines include gingko and ginseng. They are not used to treat a specific symptom or disease. Instead they are meant to restore balance to the body as a whole. These medicines can be taken in many forms, including pills, powders, and teas.

The evidence: Chinese herbal remedies have been studied but the research hasn’t been well-designed enough to draw any conclusions on effectiveness.

Regarding safety, there have been reports of heavy metals and other toxins in certain Chinese herbal remedies.

Traditional

A number of different herbs are grown in the Western world that are considered “Western” or “traditional” herbal remedies. Most studies on these herbs have been small. So it’s hard to know for sure whether they work. A few herbs that have shown possible benefit include:

  • Chamomile for relieving stomach upset.
  • Cranberry for preventing urinary tract infections.
  • Flaxseed, garlic, and soy for lowering cholesterol.
  • Peppermint oil for preventing heartburn.
  • St. John’s wort for relieving mild to moderate depression.

Although herbal remedies are considered “natural,” they can cause side effects. They may also interact with drugs you’re taking for other conditions. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal medicine.

Like everything else, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. So, it will be more trial and error…but we’d all like to hear any of your experiences with CAM therapies.

Treat Your Pain

Many experts believe the best treatment for fibromyalgia is a multifaceted approach that combines medication with lifestyle changes and alternative treatments. And, it looks like Mommy and I have been left alone to learn how to manage/treat/cope/handle/survive (choose the most appropriate verb) my fibromyalgia. Having read lots of your stories and received plenty of advice, I am working on my own treatment plan – do I have a choice?

But what about if you’re new to all of this? Where do you even start?

A treatment plan gives structure to getting from here to there. Be realistic and (yes, you’re already probably sick of hearing this already) small steps! A treatment plan is different from devising goals because of its flexibility and internal exploration. In most clinical settings, a treatment plan review is done quarterly or even monthly. After each review, the plan is rewritten to meet current needs.

Start With a Diagnosis

There are no lab tests for fibromyalgia. Doctors diagnose it by considering criteria such as how long you’ve had pain and how widespread it is, and by ruling out other causes. This can be a long and complicated process because the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can be caused by other conditions. So it’s best to see a doctor who is familiar with fibromyalgia – which can be easier said than done, sometimes!

Learn About Fibromyalgia Medications – You are YOUR Best Advocate!

Once you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, your doctor will talk to you about treatment options. Several types of medicines are used to help manage fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain and fatigue.

Three medications are FDA-approved to treat fibromyalgia:

  • Cymbalta (duloxetine): a type of antidepressant called a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Researchers aren’t sure how Cymbalta works in fibromyalgia, but they think that increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine help control and reduce feelings of pain.
  • Lyrica (pregabalin): Lyrica is a nerve pain and epilepsy drug. In people with fibromyalgia, it may help calm down overly sensitive nerve cells that send pain signals throughout the body. It has been effective in treating fibro pain.
  • Savella (milnacipran): Savella is also an SNRI. While researchers aren’t exactly sure how it works, studies have shown that it helps relieve pain and reduce fatigue in people with fibromyalgia.

Antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed to help people manage fibromyalgia symptoms:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants. By helping increase levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, these medications may help relax painful muscles and enhance the body’s natural painkillers.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Your doctor may prescribe one of these types of antidepressants by itself or in combination with a tricyclic antidepressant. SSRIs prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed in the brain. This may help ease pain and fatigue.

These medications are also sometimes prescribed for fibromyalgia:

  • Local anesthetics. Injected into especially tender areas, anesthetics can provide some temporary relief, usually for no longer than three months.
  • Anticonvulsants or seizure medications such as Neurontin are effective for reducing pain and anxiety. It is unclear how these medications work to relieve the symptoms in fibromyalgia.
  • Muscle Relaxants are occasionally prescribed to help alleviate pain associate with muscle strain in those with fibromyalgia.

Stay Active

Exercise is an important part of managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Staying physically active can relieve pain, stress, and anxiety.

The key is to start slowly. Begin with stretching and low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming or other water exercises, or bicycling. Low-impact aerobic exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or Pilates can also be helpful. Prior to starting any exercise routine, or if you want to increase the intensity of your exercise, talk with your doctor.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help you get control of your illness by focusing on what you can do to improve your situation, rather than on your chronic symptoms.

A physical therapist can show you how to get temporary relief from fibromyalgia pain and stiffness, get stronger, and improve your range of motion. And she can help you make little changes, such as practicing good posture, that help prevent painful flare-ups.

Alternative Therapies

A number of popular fibromyalgia treatments fall outside the realm of mainstream medicine. In general, there hasn’t been extensive research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but anecdotal evidence suggests that some may work. Always talk with your doctor before starting any alternative treatment.

Popular alternative treatments include:

  • Acupuncture. This ancient healing practice aims to increase blood flow and production of natural painkillers with thin needles inserted into the skin at strategic points on the body. Some studies report that acupuncture may help ease pain, anxiety, and fatigue.
  • Massage therapy. This may help reduce muscle tension, ease pain in both muscles and soft tissue,improve range of motion, and boost production of natural painkillers.
  • Chiropractic treatment. Based on spinal adjustments to reduce pain, this popular therapy may help relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Supplements. A number of dietary and other supplements are touted as treatments aimed at relieving fibromyalgia symptoms. Some of the most popular for fibromyalgia include magnesium, melatonin, 5-HTP, and SAMe, which may affect serotonin levels. However, results of studies on these supplements are mixed. Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. Some may have side effects and could react badly with medication you are taking.
  • Herbs. As with supplements, scientific evidence for the effectiveness of herbs is mixed. A few studies have shown that St. John’s wort can be as effective as certain prescription medication for treating mild depression.

This is just a start – and you will probably need to tweak your plan as you go along, throwing out activities and treatments that don’t work for you, while grasping the positives with both hands. Remember, it may take a while to get where you want to be – it is all about experimentation (and just because something works for me does not mean it will work for you). Lastly, try not to get discouraged (Ha!) but we’re all here to support you.