Do you wake up unrefreshed, with stiffness and pain in your muscles, have specific painful ‘spots’ on your back and front side, and get tired easily? If your answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then you may be suffering from a common disorder called fibromyalgia. Here we take a look at Ayurvedic management and remedies for fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a painful condition characterized by widespread pain involving muscles and bones, stiffness, increased sensitivity to painful stimuli, inadequate sleep, multiple tender points on the body and easy fatigability.
It is more commonly found in women than men (9:1 ratio of occurrence respectively). In extremities, people experience numbness and coldness.
There is no inflammation or ‘muscle damage’ as such, but the pain and stiffness could have quite a crippling effect on your day to day activities.
There is no specific cause, but a disturbed sleep cycle has been implicated as a major cause in the development of this disorder.
Interestingly, a low level of ‘feel good’ hormone serotonin and glucocorticoids (stress fighting hormones produced by adrenals) is a frequent finding.
But treatment with medicines that increase serotonin or glucocorticoid levels does not provide much relief, indicative of the root cause being elsewhere.
A history of sexual and physical abuse, eating disorders, and depression has been found in many subjects having fibromyalgia which points towards a strong psychological relation.
In conventional medical science, the mainstays of treatment are painkillers, relaxation techniques, anti-depressants/anti-anxiety drugs, local heat and massage therapies, and sleeping pills.
The effect is temporary and is often disappointing for the patient.
Ayurvedic Perspective On Fibromyalgia
Ayurveda classifies these kinds of disorders under Vata disorders. The Vata dosha, when aggravated due to various reasons, can cause many disorders depending upon the tissues it affects.
In the case of fibromyalgia, it is the muscular tissue or ‘mamsa dhatu’ as referred to in Ayurvedic nomenclature.
Vata dosha can get aggravated due to independent causes or due to the blockage of its path (the nervous pathways) by other doshas, namely Kapha and Pitta.
In the case of fibromyalgia, it is Kapha which takes a different form called “ama”- a product of impaired digestion.
These are also the very toxins, in layman language, that gets built up in our system due to, for example, undigested food. So fibromyalgia can be called a Vata/ Vata-Kapha or, more aptly, an ama + Vata disorder as per the individual case.
The cause of independent Vata aggravation ranges from dietary, lifestyle-related issues to behavioral, emotional and psychological aspects.
Consuming dry foods (without oil, ghee or butter), cold, Vata aggravating foods, not chewing the food properly and eating food with divided attention are a few of the dietary causes of Vata aggravation.
Among the lifestyle causes, doing a lot of mental or physical work, travel without rest, increased exposure to wind and cold, not applying any oil on your head or body, erratic sleep habits, too much usage of electronic gadgets, and always being in a hurry, are the most common.
In addition, lack of emotional support, constant fear, bullying, abuse, and a Vata dominated prakriti (dosha constitution type) are also precipitating factors for a Vata aggravation.
The second aspect of Vata aggravation is the blockage of the movement of Vata (the nervous impulse) by the aforementioned unnatural form of Kapha called ‘ama’, which literally means ‘unripe’, and is thought by many scholars of Ayurveda to trigger a strong reaction in the body.
Due to the various causes which aggravate any/any two/all three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha), and result in impairment of the digestive process, the formation of ‘ama’ takes place, as all three doshas have a specific and a cumulative role in a normal, well-functioning digestion process.
So, if the normal, natural state of any of these doshas is affected, the digestion of food is impaired. As a result, ‘ama’ is formed, gets absorbed by the intestines and circulates all over the body.
It can combine with Vata, and lodge in muscles causing symptoms of fibromyalgia.
This results in stiffness and pain (as it blocks the flow of Vata) of muscles. But if this is combined with the aggravation of Vata through its independent causes, it causes more pain, tenderness, and fatigue.
Generally, the two phenomena are present simultaneously and thus produce a combined picture of symptoms (for example, a disturbed sleep cycle denotes Vata aggravation).
The management of fibromyalgia can be five-pronged.
(a) Avoid Vata aggravating causes
Ayurveda says that avoidance of causative factors is the first step towards managing a disorder. That means a change in diet, eating habits, lifestyle habits, psychotherapy wherever needed is a must.
(b) Treat the painful areas locally
Treating the painful areas to a warm oil massage followed by a steam bath or dry heat application is very effective in unblocking the flow of Vata and thus reducing pain.
Oil massage without heat application is not advised. If you mostly feel stiff, apply dry heat for a few sessions, and then apply oil followed by heat.
Strictly avoid exposure to air and cold after such a session for at least the rest of the day.
(c) Correct digestion and stop production of Ama
This is very important as this is the root cause of the blockage of Vata in muscles. Thus, the dosha affecting the digestion should be identified and treated to restore normalcy.
Use kitchen herbs like fennel and coriander seeds in a Pitta aggravation, asafetida and caraway seeds in Vata aggravation and dried ginger powder and long pepper in Kapha aggravation.
These can be beneficial in restoring the digestion to normalcy. Correct eating habits and rules of eating have to be followed.
(d) Treat the seat of Vata
The colon is the seat of Vata which gets disturbed in any state of Vata aggravation and then adds to the Vata disarray.
A colon cleanse on a daily basis using 1 teaspoon of castor oil with half a glass of warm water or milk is beneficial.
For an acute condition, you can consider a procedure of medicated enemas called ‘vasti‘, but you need to contact an Ayurvedic center to do so.
(e) Improve sleep
A treatment called ‘shirodhara’ which involves pouring warm oil on the forehead for 30 -45 minutes is very effective in treating Vata aggravation in the head region and is known to induce deep sleep.
Alternatively, breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation is done at bedtime along with a self-massage of the feet can be effective. An Ayurveda practitioner may be consulted who can recommend certain herbs to calm the mind.
Psychotherapy, biofeedback, and hypnosis can also help. Be assured that fibromyalgia is a condition which can be effectively managed if the root cause of the disorder is addressed adequately.
Consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before trying the remedies and management strategies mentioned here.