By: Kathy Longley
Reprinted from FMOnline

The words “pulled,” “prodded,” and “cracked” certainly use to summarize my idea of osteopathy and chiropractic treatment. I couldn’t understand why anyone would actually want to pay to have a therapist stick their thumbs into tender and bruised muscles, to be pulled into unheard-of positions in order to crack one’s joints as though one were a rag doll! Surprisingly, when I actually went to see an osteopath for the first time I discovered they could be quite gentle creatures and not the embodiment of my nightmares.

Treatments like osteopathy and chiropractic are, in fact, popular with people who have fibromyalgia. Often disillusioned with what the medical profession can offer, people are turning to alternative therapists in the hope of relief from their pain and fatigue. Unfortunately, there is little research evidence to support these alternative options, as one of the latest studies by Drs. Sarac and Gur from Turkey points out in their review of complimentary and alternative medical therapies in fibromyalgia. In chiropractic care, for example, there are apparently no well-designed studies or positive results published, so it is difficult for doctors to recommend such treatments.

However, once alternative therapies have been properly evaluated in randomized, placebo-controlled trials, they are likely to prove beneficial. At the moment, though, all you can do is find out about the different types of treatment available, read the anecdotal evidence, and decide for yourself whether or not to give it a go. Ask around and talk to other people who have fibromyalgia as they may be able to recommend a specific therapist who has helped them. You will find that each person has his own story about what’s beneficial. I often find that as soon as people discover I have health problems, they are very keen to tell me about a friend of theirs, or their Aunt Jane’s next-door neighbor, whose health improved dramatically when they tried this or that. It is a good idea to try a new therapy for about six months to give it the opportunity to make a difference, and for you to judge whether the relief is merely temporary—or if you are progressing towards better health. If in doubt, stop the therapy for a while and see if you feel worse without it.

So, what can osteopathy and chiropractic treatment offer?


An osteopath has been trained to have a thorough understanding of how the bones and muscles are positioned in the body and how they work in relation to each other. They use touch to track down any mechanical imbalances in your muscles, ligaments, or joints and then use techniques such as deep tissue massage and joint manipulation to correct these imbalances to improve your function and mobility. The idea is also to enhance your body’s natural healing ability, the belief is that if your musculoskeletal system is functioning properly, then your body will be able to heal itself more effectively. The therapy is always tailored to the individual, so it is important that your therapist has some understanding of fibromyalgia and is prepared to work with you to find the best approach for you. Some people with fibromyalgia cannot tolerate deep tissue massage as it aggravates the trigger points without releasing them. Others can’t get enough and find it successful in releasing the knots in their muscles and allowing them to relax.

An osteopath will also examine your posture and the way you move. Osteopaths teach you ways to improve the way you sit and the way you stand, allowing you to put as little as possible strain on your muscles and joints. Bad posture and awkward movement can create trigger points and irritate them once they are there. It is not enough to release the trigger point, you need to stop it coming back.

Joint manipulation can seem quite frightening especially when you hear the audible crack—which, interestingly, is the sound of gas bubbles popping in the fluid of the joints. Manipulation can release muscle tension and pressure on nerve endings and allow the joints to move more freely. You need to be relaxed to allow a manipulation, so it is important that you have faith in your therapist!

Acupuncture, laser therapy, and relaxation training may also form part of your individual treatment program. As treatment is tailored to suit the individual, no two people will receive the same combination of therapies. An osteopath is trained to treat the whole person rather than simply the symptoms presented.

Chiropractic Treatment

Chiropractic treatment is similar to osteopathy in the way that it concentrates on the functioning of your muscles, ligaments and joints in relation to the nervous system—but it tends to focus more specifically on the spine. The vertebrae of the spine protect all the nerve relay junctions as messages come in from all areas of your body, are integrated, and then sent up to the brain. It is a very important area and it is thought that gentle manipulation of the vertebrae can reduce spinal nerve irritation, correct alignment, and release the tension in the back muscles.

References to spinal manipulation go back to the ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations. Modern chiropractic medicine only emerged around 1895 from a Canadian called Daniel Palmer, who founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic Medicine in Davenport, Iowa in 1897. An offshoot from chiropractic medicine is the McTimoney approach.

John McTimoney was trained at the Palmer School and then put his own spin on the treatment. He developed the use of fast gentle flicking movements to give the vertebrae a push in the right direction and allow them to settle into their correct resting position without an adjustment being forced upon them. The movements are light and fast and more comfortable than a normal manipulation, where the adjustment is more strongly enforced. A McTimoney chiropractor focuses on the pelvis and head as well as the spine, and gives postural advice to help the adjustments hold in place. So if you are anxious about manipulation, then you may be more comfortable with this approach.

Of course, these are just two of the alternative therapies you may consider trying in order to cope with the symptoms of fibromyalgia. There is certainly more to it then being pulled, prodded, and cracked. Finding a therapist who has a good understanding of fibromyalgia will give you greater confidence. Sometimes it can feel good just to do something about your health and to feel listened to and cared for by a therapist. Just make sure that you reassess after six months to check that you are progressing and using your resources wisely.