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Can Therapy Dogs Help Manage Fibromyalgia Pain?

Health

Fibromyalgia was first diagnosed decades ago. Back then, it was known as fibromyalgia syndrome because doctors had no idea what was causing the symptoms patients presented with. Research has shown otherwise. Fibromyalgia is no longer considered to syndrome but, rather, a known medical condition associated with pain hypersensitivity in the brain.

Current treatments center around pain, stress, and sleep management. In light of that, a recently released study from Purina and the Mayo Clinic suggests that therapy dogs can help fibromyalgia patients with stress management. Does that mean they can also help manage fibromyalgia pain? More research is necessary, but the idea seems to have some merit.

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More about Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by pain sensitivity throughout the body. Pain is centralized, meaning it is experienced throughout the entire musculoskeletal system. Fibromyalgia sufferers also exhibit sleep problems, chronic fatigue, and issues with both mood and memory.

Some 10 million people suffer from the condition in the U.S., according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. The Association estimates that as much as 6% of the world’s population could be affected. The vast majority of patients are adult females, but the condition strikes men and children as well.

Fibromyalgia’s primary symptom is chronic pain. It is felt in the back, shoulders, arms, and legs. An experienced pain doctor can generally diagnose the condition through a combination of assessing symptoms and testing certain trigger points for sensitivity.

Therapy Dogs As Treatment

Current pharmacological pain treatments can help fibromyalgia patients, but they are limited in scope, according to the pain doctors at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, Texas. Thus, the therapy dog study from Purina and the Mayo Clinic offers a lot of hope.

The study looked at 221 patients already enrolled in the Mayo Clinic’s Fibromyalgia Treatment Program. Patients were divided into control and study groups for the purposes of better understanding how interacting with animals affects their emotional state.

Those in the study group interacted with trained therapy dogs in 20-minute sessions. Following each session, both patients and animals were examined. The results proved rather interesting.

Patients exhibited higher oxytocin levels and decreased heart rate. They also reported fewer negative emotions and more positive ones. As for the dogs, none exhibited signs of less contentment following the sessions. Some of them demonstrated lower heart rates, suggesting that the therapy was good for them too.

More Research Is Necessary

It is impossible to draw concrete conclusions from a single study involving a couple of hundred patients. More research is obviously necessary. However, this particular study provides the impetus for that research. There is enough here to suggest that interacting with trained therapy dogs can help fibromyalgia patients relax.

Relaxation is important given how much trouble stress can cause the human body. It is well-known that fibromyalgia patients who do not manage stress well tend to be more symptomatic. Treating them with pain medication or steroid injections is not necessarily the way to go. Mood-altering medications can help, but these are not a good long-term solution either.

The other thing to note is that fibromyalgia patients tend to shy away from traditional pharmacological treatments because of perceived negative side effects. Trained therapy dogs would be a welcome option if they can truly help manage fibromyalgia by helping patients relax and manage stress.

Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend. There is a lot about the relationship between human and canine we do not understand. We don’t understand how dogs help people relax. But they do, and that could turn out to be quite helpful in managing fibromyalgia.