Fibromyalgia – Could Oxygen Therapy Help?
Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal disorder characterized by widespread pain, tenderness at specific anatomical sites (i.e. tender points) and clinical manifestations such as fatigue, sleep disturbance and irritable bowel syndrome. Patients with fibromyalgia are always in pain; they always hurt. It is not clear what causes this disease, but there is belief that several interacting factors such as muscle overload, poor spinal posture, disturbed sleep, psychogenic factors and reduced concentrations of high-energy phosphate may be the cause. There is also a hypothesis that low oxygen levels in the blood and muscles causes degenerative changes (and thus, pain) in the muscles associated with fibromyalgia.
If the low oxygen level is the cause, or part of the cause of fibromyalgia, then an increase in the oxygen levels in the fluids of the body would certainly help. Unfortunately, breathing deeper or breathing pure oxygen (the air we normally breathe is only about 21 percent oxygen) does not increase the muscle oxygen concentration to any significant degree because the hemoglobin molecule in our blood is very efficient at carrying what small percent of oxygen that is in the air to the muscles. What is needed is a mechanism to carry additional oxygen to the muscles via the fluid around the red blood cells, the plasma. This is where hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) comes in. Via Henry’s Law of Gasses, the higher the pressure around liquid (the plasma and the red blood cells in your body), the more a gas (oxygen) will dissolve in it. In a 1.5 atmosphere chamber while breathing 95-100 percent oxygen, the amount of oxygen in the plasma is 10 times greater than normal.
So, does it help? A 2004 randomized controlled study with 50 participants showed positive results after 15 HBOT sessions as shown by: 1) a significant reduction in tender points; 2) a significant decrease in pain scale scores; 3) a significant increase in the pain threshold of the tender points.
So why isn’t HBOT the standard of care for the treatment of fibromyalgia? Many patients with fibromyalgia, probably most, have never heard of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Many doctors don’t know about it either. Let’s face it, no drug company rep is going to visit a physician’s office to tell them about the benefits of oxygen. There is no interest by the pharmaceutical companies to perform and publish a multi-million dollar study to see how much this would help either. With this disease, as with many health problems, you are on your own to find the best treatment. HBOT is also recommended by numerous fibromyalgia support groups.
As stated in the study, “HBOT may be an effective alternative treatment modality for patients with fibromyalgia syndrome, especially for those with chronic pain.”
1. The Journal International Medical Research, 2004 May-June: 263-7
2. Rheumaforsh, Z. Morphology and Pathogenesis of Soft-tissue Rheumatism, 1973
For more info, contact Dr. David Rovetti, Doctor of Chiropractic at (775) 324-3700.