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Clarkson Study: Relaxation Techniques Reduce Pain Of Fibromyalgia

Preliminary results from a Clarkson University graduate student study of people with fibromyalgia show that using relaxation and stress reduction techniques reduces pain.

Two graduate students in Clarkson’s Physical Therapy program, Clara Brown and Susan Stella, have been studying whether relaxation breathing can benefit people with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a collection of symptoms and physical findings including widespread pain or aching, multiple tender points, chronic fatigue, morning stiffness, non-refreshing sleep, irritable bowel or bladder, cold hands or feet, tingling or numbness, depression, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.

The cause of fibromyalgia is not known and there is no cure. Treatment is directed at helping the body’s healing power and managing the symptoms.

Because stress increases the symptoms of fibromyalgia, Stella and Brown hypothesized that relaxation might decrease the symptoms. Their study, therefore, looked at whether people with fibromyalgia could learn how to relax by doing deep breathing exercises. Participants were instructed in relaxation breathing and were given a relaxation audiotape they were to listen to once a day for eight weeks. Stella and Brown compared people who did the deep breathing to a control group of similar people who did not.

Participants in the control group were given the opportunity to learn the breathing techniques after the study was complete.

The preliminary results are promising: people who participated in the relaxation breathing appeared to show decreased pain and symptoms. Stella and Brown have hypothesized that psychological stress causes a physiological stress reaction that aggravates the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Relaxation techniques may help to reverse both the psychological and physiological impact of stress, allowing the body to function more effectively and therefore decreasing pain.

This research was conducted under the direction of their research advisor Leslie Russek, an assistant professor in the Physical Therapy Department at Clarkson. Russek also runs the Potsdam Fibromyalgia Support Group, from which many of the participants came. “Relaxation breathing certainly isn’t a cure,” says Dr. Russek, “but anything that can help improve the quality of life for people with fibromyalgia is a good thing.”

Russek is conducting another research project on fibromyalgia, in cooperation with Heidi Fritz of Clarkson’s Psychology Department. The project is studying how daily events affect the pain and fatigue people with fibromyalgia feel. Anyone with fibromyalgia who is interested in participating in the daily events study is encouraged to contact Fritz at 315-268-2361 for more information.

People who have fibromyalgia or want to learn more about it are invited to the Potsdam Fibromyalgia Support Group, which meets on the fourth Thursday of every month. Each meeting has a discussion topic or speaker. For more information about the Support Group, contact Canton-Potsdam Hospital at 315-265-0151, ext. 4331.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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