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Home: Related Disorders: FMS: Brain Waves

Are Brain Waves the Key to Treating Fibromyalgia?

Dr. Horst H. Mueller, CPsych, CRHSPP, BCIAC
Miramas Health Clinic
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a common chronic pain disorder that effects approximately one million Canadians— mostly women.

Common symptoms of FMS are: chronic wide-spread or all-over-body pain with numerous painful tender points in specific locations on the body, disturbed and nonrestorative sleep, morning stiffness, persistent fatigue and exercise intolerance, and reduced ability to think clearly (mental clouding or “fibro-fog”). Other health problems frequently associated with FMS include: depressed and irritable mood, irritable bowel and bladder, headaches, premenstrual syndrome, multiple allergies and chemical sensitivities, and cold hands and feet.

Fibromyalgia is especially confusing and often misunderstood because almost all its symptoms are also common to other conditions. There is no single test or laboratory finding that is uniquely diagnostic for FMS. In addition, FMS probably has more than one cause. It can develop over a few months as a result of a traumatic muscle injury from a fall or minor motor vehicle accident, or it can start with a viral illness like the flu or mononucleosis. In some women it appears to develop after sudden hormonal change such as occurs after a hysterectomy, child birth or menopause. While FMS can be associated with irritable and depressed mood and is frequently made worse by psychological stress, most research does not support the notion that FMS is psychologically caused.

Common medical and physical therapy treatments for chronic body pain have not proven very successful in alleviating FMS. Commonly prescribed low dose antidepressant drugs, painkillers, and aerobic exercise generally help only a minority of FMS sufferers to obtain minimal to moderate remission.

Recent research increasingly points to the brain as key to understanding FMS. Physiological arousal is under the management of the brain, which also regulates the sleep-wake cycle and modulates the pain response. When the brain and central nervous system are presented with a constant barrage of pain signals, over the course of time a number of physical and chemical changes occur within the brain centres that process bodily sensations to increase their sensitivity to stimulation and decrease their sensitivity to location. More and more, the brain interprets previously nonpainful stimulation as painful and loses its ability to pinpoint exactly where stimulation is coming from. There is growing consensus among neurological researchers that FMS patients show abnormalities in brain blood flow and electrical activity (EEG) that appear to be associated with a number of core symptoms. These changes include evidence of reduced blood circulation (hypoperfusion) in various areas of the brain and excessive amounts of low frequency electrical activity from primarily central and frontal areas of the cortex.

A promising new therapy for FMS uses EEG neurotherapy to train the brain to reduce low frequency EEG activity and increase the amount of higher frequency activity. This training appears to normalize the brain’s functioning and results in increased mental clarity and energy, improved mood, deeper and more restful sleep, decreased physical fatigue, and a reduction in “all-over-body” pain. Once these changes begin, FMS patients are able to benefit from specific physical therapy treatments that focus on muscle stretching and balance, correcting poor posture and movement patterns, and increasing physical stamina.

A recent clinical outcomes study of 30 FMS patients treated with EEG neurotherapy followed by trigger point massage and myofascial physical therapies (goto: www.Myosymmetries.com/report1.htm ) found that patients obtained significant improvements in mood (65%), mental clarity (66%), restorative sleep (57%), and pain (54%) over the course of treatment. Whereas all 30 patients fully met the American College of Rheumatology classification criteria for fibromyalgia at the start of treatment (average of 15 ± 2 positive tender points), none met the full criteria at their discharge (average of 8 ± 3 positive tender points). At follow-up, an average of nearly 8 months posttreatment, these ex-patients reported an average three-fold increase in the number of nights per week they “slept well” and a four-fold increase in the number of days per week they “felt good”. At follow-up, these ex-patients reported themselves to be just over 60% improved overall (range 20%-90%).

Only a small number of pioneering clinicians in the United States and Canada are currently using EEG neurotherapy with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue patients. However, as their positive clinical outcomes become more broadly reported and research on the connection between brain wave patterns and various physical disorders continues, EEG neurotherapy will become a relatively common treatment.

Dr. Muller can be contacted by phone (780) 423-6633 or by e-mail: dr.mueller@miramas.com. He is still treating patients with a combination of cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy and general biofeedback and/or EEG neurotherapies.

Modified December 8, 2005

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