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Managing Fibromyalgia with Mindfulness

What is Fibromyalgia?

'Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also have:

• increased sensitivity to pain
• fatigue (extreme tiredness)
• muscle stiffness
• difficulty sleeping
• problems with mental processes (known as "fibro-fog") – such as problems with memory and concentration
• headaches
• irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating' (NHS Choices)

Fibromyalgia and Mindfulness

Life with a long-term condition can be a lot to come to terms with. The NHS advises people living with fibromyalgia that although treatment is available and will ease some symptoms, they're unlikely to disappear completely, so self-management can be an important factor in living with the condition. Also, fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose creating feelings of uncertainty and anxiety about future health.

Mindfulness is a 'whole life' approach where you learn how to work with your mental and emotional reactions to your pain and exhaustion; you learn how to bring mindfulness into daily life and pace your activities; you learn how to become more emotionally positive and re-claim your relationships and rediscover the joys and pleasures in your life again.

There has been a huge amount of evidence to support the role of mindfulness in the symptom management of fibromyalgia. Often, individuals with fibromyalgia demonstrate a series of maladaptive coping strategies which in turn can lead to poor mental health; however mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly improve this. For example, in a study of 91 women living with fibromyalgia, those who participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programme had a significant reduction in depressive symptoms compared to the control group, with these effects remaining 2 months after the training[1] . Another study found that after participating in mindfulness training, fibromyalgia patients demonstrated a 13% increase in anger control and up to a 27% reduction in angry feelings, depression and anxiety[2]

Furthermore, mindfulness training has been shown to reduce physical symptoms such as fatigue and perceived pain intensity[3]

Of particular interest was the suggestion that being overly observant of symptoms or trying to avoid pain can actually contribute towards the development of fibromyalgia and worsen the existing symptoms[4] .Mindfulness practice can actually change the way you relate to your pain, as shown by a recent study in which a group of fibromyalgia patients (either attending an 8-week mindfulness programme or forming a control group) took part in a computer game which measured their reaction time towards both threatening and non-threatening words. The results showed that the mindfulness group showed less avoidant and hypervigilance behaviour, supporting the idea that mindfulness encourages a non-judgemental and accepting relationship with pain, rather than trying to push it away. However, the positive effects of the mindfulness training did reduce 6 months after the intervention, highlighting the fact that mindfulness is a practice which should be maintained in order to benefit fully.

[1] Sephton et al. (2007). Mindfulness meditation alleviates depressive symptoms in women with fibromyalgia: results of a randomised clinical trial. 

[2] Amutio et al. (2015). Mindfulness training for reducing anger, anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients.

[3] Vago & Nakamura. (2011). Selective attentional bias towards pain-related threat in fibromyalgia: preliminary evidence for effects of mindfulness meditation training.

[4] Lauche et al. (2013). A systematic review and meta-analysis of mindfulness-based stress reduction for the fibromyalgia syndrome.

Through our Mindfulness for Health coursebook and online courses, time and time again we have seen that fibromyalgia is a condition that responds well to mindfulness.  Breathworks partnered in research recently that showed that regular practice of mindfulness can be beneficial for anyone living with a long-term condition such as fibromyalgia.

Case Studies

Julie Franklin

Lesa Vallentine


Emma Sheridan - A Sheffield Fibromite writes about her experience of the Breathworks Mindfulness for Health course.

Fibromyalgia Summit 2016

In May 2016 Vidyamala Burch, Breathworks Mindfulness co-founder joined speakers for the Fibromyalgia Online Summit to talk about how you can help manage fibromyalgia with mindfulness as well as how it can help with a wide range of other long-term health conditions.

Here you can listen to Vidyamala's talk and interview at the summit as well as read her presentation:

pdfVidyamala_Burch_at_the_Fibromyalgia_Summit_2016.pdf5.23 MB 

Links for further information

Fibromyalgia Action UK

Breathworks Mindfulness Resources

Mindfulness for Health (book)

Mindfulness for Health course

Mindfulness for Health online


"By trying to live in the moment, in a mindful way, I now recognise that my physical condition is only part of my overall experience in any given moment. There is so much more to my life than just the pain. Furthermore, I have learned that I have a choice about responding rather than reacting to my pain. I have found that it is possible to differentiate between how I physically am in any one moment, and how I feel emotionally. I can therefore be in a great deal of pain but at the same time experience a deep sense of being well in myself. My physical condition has not changed but my experience of it has".

JF, Fibromyalgia

"The Mindfulness for Health course was great, it has given me tools to help me manage pain and associated anxiety much more effectively."

CC, 58, Fibromyalgia