Dramatic new hope for fibromyalgia sufferers comes in the shape of a pressurised chamber that floods the body with pure oxygen.
It’s known as Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and, thanks to a 2015 study that has proven its efficacy in fibromyalgia cases, comes highly recommended as the linchpin of any fibromyalgia care plan.
Fibromyalgia — one of the world’s most mysterious illnesses
Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that occurs more in women than men, typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50, and according to some estimates, affects 1 in 20 people.
Its predominant symptom is pain in all areas of the body, but other symptoms may include:
- muscle stiffness
- increased sensitivity to pain
- sleeping problems
- ‘fibro-fog’, i.e. problems with concentration and memory loss
- irritable bowel syndrome.
Just like chronic fatigue or ME fibromyalgia is a bit of a medical mystery. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s thought by doctors and scientists to be related to abnormal chemical levels in the brain and changes in the way the nervous system processes pain messages. In some cases it appears to be partly hereditary. In many cases, it’s triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event, including injury, infection, an operation, giving birth, the breakdown of a relationship or a bereavement.
Fibromyalgia is particularly difficult to diagnose, because there’s no specific test for the condition, and its symptoms are sometimes indistinguishable from a variety of others, including chronic fatigue/ME.
There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia. However, a number of treatments are used to relieve the symptoms. Coming to the fore as one of the most efficacious complementary therapies is HBOT.
Hyperbaric oxygen — the most important new development in fibromyalgia research
Treatment for fibromyalgia tends to include medication such as painkillers and antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation techniques and exercise. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is somewhat different.
Normally we breathe in 21% oxygen (along with 78% nitrogen and 1% trace gases). That oxygen travels around our body in the haemoglobin in our blood and fuels all of our vital processes, including energy production, digestion, immunity, healing and neurological functioning.
HBOT involves entering a special chamber and breathing in 100% oxygen at 2 times the normal atmospheric pressure. This has a 2-pronged effect. Firstly, you’re getting 79% more oxygen with each breath. Secondly, that oxygen is forced to dissolve in the blood plasma and other bodily fluids by the heightened air pressure in the chamber. These two conditions cause all of your body tissues to become saturated with oxygen, putting you in a hyperoxygenated state.
Hyperoxygenation is scientifically proven to boost energy and circulation, reduce swelling, hasten tissue repair and enhance the immune system. The healing properties of hyperoxygenation are why prominent sportspeople regularly use HBOT to improve their endurance and performance and cut their injury recovery time in half.
In effect, HBOT helps the body and mind to perform better. This is one of the reasons why it’s so effective for fibromyalgia patients, whose bodies are underperforming. Furthermore, the specific positive effects of HBOT on fibromyalgia patients have now been verified by a 2015 study.
HBOT for fibromyalgia: the evidence
In 2015, the Sagol Centre for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Centre in Israel carried out a controlled clinical trial to explore the use of HBOT in fibromyalgia cases. They administered 40 90-minute sessions of HBOT over the course of 8 weeks and found that it significantly reduced the number and severity of fibromyalgia ‘tender points’. They also saw improvements in physical functioning and quality of life.
The most intriguing finding was that HBOT ‘rectified’ the brain areas believed to be abnormal in fibromyalgia patients. It did this by decreasing activity in the regions responsible for processing pain and increasing it in the regions responsible for inhibiting pain. This change in brain activity coincided with improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms.
Hyperbaric expert Robert Pender, at the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Centre in Chelsea, London, says:
Here at the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Centre, fibromyalgia patients enjoy the privacy and repose of a single-person chamber. You can read, meditate, surf the web or listen to music — whatever you prefer. We also offer air pressure conditions of up to 2 times normal, which allows your body to absorb 10-15 times more oxygen than it can through normal respiration. Most clinics only offer 1.4-1.6 times the normal pressure, but we’re determined to give our patients the best chance of improving their symptoms and overall wellbeing.
How many sessions you will need for your Fibromyalgia will depend on the severity of your symptoms. The number of HBOT sessions you will need will be agreed upon during your initial consultation with hyperbaric expert Robert Pender, world-renowned for his work in the field.