Diagnosing fibromylagia is difficult as there are no specific tests other than tests for the symptoms themselves. These include chronic fatigue, insomnia, depression, severe headaches, decresed cognitive function, joint and musculoskeletal pain that often migrates throughout the body. Although somewhat related to arthritis, it does not damage the joints; it affects the soft tissue and muscles instead. Although not life threatening it is an exhausting and extremely debilitating illness.
To date no exact cause of fibromylagia has been identified but there are many possible triggers – stress, traumatic injury, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, undiagnosed Lyme Disease, viruses and autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus. Once diagnosis has been made standard care is given by a rheumatologist with the aid of pain killers. However, proper rest and nutrition are the key factors in continuing to function with fibromylagia. Patient education, exercise, self-management and alternative therapies also play an important role.
Alternative medicine has a lot to offer for the relief of fibromyalgia. These include acupuncture, chiropractic, therapeutic massage, biofeedback and herbal remedies. Some of the following herbs are excellent choices to explore as you find a regime of care that is best suited to your individual needs. However, before beginning any herbal treatment or supplement please consult with your primary medical practitioner.
Also known as Winter Cherry (Withania somnifera) is native to India, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka and parts of Africa. It is an adaptogen herb with antistress qualities and enhances the immune system and provides antioxidant nutrients. As a calming adaptogen it is antispasmodic, a nervine, antitumour and anti-inflammatory. Take in combination with Kadzu Root (Pueraria lobata), cyperus root (Cyperus rotundus) and black cohosh root (Cimicifuga racemosa), it can be used for the deep muscle pain of fybromyalgia. It can be taken as a tincture, decoction or capsule but check for contraindications before using.
Chamomile comes in two varieties – German (Matricaria recutita) and Roman (Chamaemelum nobilis) both of which are a nervine tonic, sedative, carminative and antispasmodic. It is a very good herb to counteract the effects of stress and aids relaxation and sleep. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory and will help to soothe aching muscles. The most effective way to take chamomile is as an infusion but it can also be used in tincture or decotion form. combined with valerian and passionflower it may be used to greatly improve sleep quality. with Manuka honey it also relieves headaches. If you are allergic to Ragweed be cautious about using chamomile.
Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is native to southern Africa and is so called because of the shape of its seed pods, which look like claws. It is an anti-inflammatory and used in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatic pain, neck and back pain, osteoarthritis and also tendonitis. It can be taken as a tea or tincture and also externally as an ointment or salve for pain. A study done on Devil’s Claw (published by the Journal of Rheumatology) compared its effectiveness to the Cox-2 anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx, and found it had far fewer side effects. Use under the supervision of a medical doctor.
Also known as Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida). This herb is a great immune booster, anti-inflammatory and may be taken as a tea, decoction, infusion, tincture or as capsules. A tincture of Echinacea with ginger is a powerful virus fighter to stave off colds. However, used continuously it looses its effectiveness so it is best to use in cycles such as 5-6 weeks on and 5-6 weeks off, until problem has subsided.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a powerful diaphoretic and a tea made with the flowers induces sweating and so reduces fevers. It is a potent immune system booster and most useful in the flu season months.
Formerly called Siberian Ginseng, Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus setaceous) is not of the Panax ginseng family. It grows throughout the regions of Siberia, northern China, Korea and Northern Japan. The root and bark are used in herbal medicine. It is an adaptogen and helps increase stamina and endurance while strengthening the immune system. It also acts as a nervine to help those with insomnia. It may also be recommended for those with ADHD, chronic fatigue, immune deficiency and adrenal fatigue. Eleuthero can be combined effectively with other herbs for specific treatments and can be taken as a tincture, decoction or fluid extract. Please consult a doctor if you are on prescription medications for contraindications.
A native plant to southwestern Europe and Asia, licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis) is used for a multitude of ailments. It is good for respiratory problems, a soothing demulcent and treatment for coughs, sore throat and bronchial problems as well as for gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers. Its properties are adaptogen, antiviral, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant. As an adaptogen it is very useful for those who suffer from adrenal exhaustion, depression, lethargy and fatigue. It also stimulates the immune system. It is best used in conjunction with other herbs and can be taken as a tea, tincture, decoction or in tablet form. Caution should be used if you have high blood pressure or are on prescription medications. Check first with your doctor.
The immature seed of the common oat (Avena sativa) is filled with a white ‘milk’ for one week out of the growing cycle. It is at this stage that it is harvested and can be made into a fresh tincture or glycerite. milky oats is an excellent tonic for the entire nervous system, helping to restore frayed nerves and promote a sense of calm and tranquility. Specially useful for those with chronic fatigue and panic disorders as well as those with depression and who suffer from insomnia.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herbaceous perennial that has a strong sedative effect and pain relieving action. It is safe, effective and non-addictive; however, there are those who react negatively to this if they are sensitive to the plant. While this sensitivity may be rare discintinue use if you feel greater agitation after taking Valerian. It is useful for those suffering from stress, insomnia, pain from muscle spasms, tension, headaches and is best taken in the form of a decoction or tincture.
The bark of the white willow tree (Salix alba) contains salicin, which converts to salicylic acid in the stomach but does not cause gastrointestinal injury as does synthetically produced aspirin. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a similar herb and actually helps protect against stomach ulcers. The analgesic action of willow bark makes it useful for all types of pain. Can be used as a decoction/infusion. Fluid tinctures and extracts are also available from medicinal herbalists.
Adapted from article by Katherine Weber-Turcotte in Llewellyn’s 2011 Herbal Almanac
Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine