Mud Therapy Helps People with Fibromyalgia

Healthnotes Newswire (July 12, 2007)—Sometimes new evidence can resurrect an old therapy—in this case, mud therapy. A recent study found that mud packs followed by hot baths can reduce pain and other symptoms in people with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by unexplained chronic widespread pain and tenderness in the soft tissues—primarily muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Fibromyalgia diagnoses have been on the rise over the past two decades, especially among women, who represent 75% of cases in the United States.

Many people with fibromyalgia experience an array of related symptoms, which typically include fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression, poor concentration and memory, loose bowel movements and/or constipation, headaches, and general stiffness. The cause of fibromyalgia and its constellation of symptoms is unknown, but there is evidence that some dysfunction in the interworkings of the adrenal gland and its regulators, the hypothalamus and pituitary, might be involved.

Although there is no known cure, medications such as antidepressants, analgesics, and muscle relaxants can relieve symptoms in some people. In one study, people with fibromyalgia listed exercise, rest, and applications of heat such as baths and hot packs among the most helpful of treatments, and research bears out their effectiveness. Nevertheless, many fibromyalgia sufferers fail to find relief.

Mud packs had received little attention before the new study, published in Rheumatology International. In the study, 80 people with fibromyalgia who had not improved with medications were divided into two groups: one group received 12 sessions of hot mud pack therapy, each followed by a hot bath, over two weeks and the other group did not.

The mud, which was heated to 104 to 113 °F (40 to 45 °C), was applied to the entire body and left in place for 15 minutes. The bath lasted ten minutes in water at 98 to 101 °F 37 to 38 °C (37 to 38 °C).

At the end of the treatment period, the group that used the mud packs and baths improved in measures of pain, fatigue, general health, and physical functioning, but the other group did not. The number of tender points, a hallmark of fibromyalgia, dropped from almost 14 to less than 10 in the mud-and-bath group, and scores on tests measuring symptom severity all indicated improvement. These improvements were maintained at a follow-up evaluation 14 weeks after the end of treatment.

Historical records suggest that mud packs and mud baths have been used therapeutically for hundreds of years. The height of their popularity among Europeans and Americans may have been from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. The mud used for therapy, sometimes referred to as peat, is able to transfer heat, relaxing muscle tension, reducing pain, and easing stiffness in joints. But unlike a hot water bath, mud has a drawing effect that is believed to be cleansing and healing.

“I think more people with fibromyalgia would ask for mud therapy if they knew about this research,” commented Sheila Armen, co-owner of the Strong House Spa in Quechee, Vermont. “A lot of people with fibromyalgia don’t know that the detoxifying effect of a therapy like mud packs will help them tremendously. The typical fibromyalgia sufferer who comes to our spa has tried everything, and is extra sensitive to medications, so finding therapies that don’t cause side effects and are gentle and effective is really paramount.”

(Rheumatol Int 2007; doi 10.1007/s00296-007-0358-x)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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