Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Shows Potential to Heal Fibromyalgia and PTSD

By Lisa St. John, M.S. . February 26, 2020
 
Fibromyalgia is not only difficult to treat, but often leaves those affected unable to lead productive work and family lives. To date, only medications such as pain relievers, anti-depressants and anti-seizure drugs, counseling, exercise and pain-coping strategies have provided even temporary relief.

Woman in pain from Fibromyalgia

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However, a new possibility for treatment has emerged. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been cited in a number of recent studies to significantly improve the symptoms and quality of life, as well as brain function of patients with fibromyalgia. [1]This is the content of my tooltip! [2]This is the content of my tooltip! Two such studies suggest that Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a neurological condition often triggered by severe stressors, including traumatic brain injury, infections involving the nervous system and severe emotional stress, such as appears in patients with PTSD (including PTSD caused by childhood sexual trauma). [3]This is the content of my tooltip! [4]This is the content of my tooltip! These studies showed that symptoms of FMS can be reversed in a majority of patients with HBOT. It also turned out that these same patients saw a significant improvement in their PTSD symptoms and psychological distress! We knew from previous studies that HBOT can heal parts the brain after stroke, traumatic brain and post-concussive injury, and that it stimulates neuroplasticity. But to heal FMS? PTSD? That would be groundbreaking! Of course, we need to see additional studies to validate this data, but the initial research is exciting.

I first found out about this research while attending a conference—the UHMS International Scientific Meetings in Florida—in 2018. At the conference, Dr. Shai Efrati and a member of his team, Dr. Yair Bechor talked with me about the study. Dr. Bechor pointed out that they had initially conducted a study focused on inducing neuroplasticity in the brain. During that study, they saw clinical improvement in patients with PTSD and brain injuries as a result of HBOT. Midway through the study, they observed a new and interesting pattern: A subset of patients who also had fibromyalgia complained about disturbing memories that had been recovered. These memories included fragments of images, sights, sounds and textures.

Dr. Bechor presented a poster and spoke about the disturbing experiences and emotional distress of this subset of patients during their hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions. As a result, the researchers brought in a psychotherapist with experience working with trauma to help with the distress experienced by the patients, as a compassionate adjunctive therapy. Dr. Bechor excitedly told me how he observed that these women experienced a profound transformation during their 60 hyperbaric oxygen treatments. They became more outgoing, seemed excited and positive about their lives, and also experienced a reduction in pain. In addition, another fascinating result was that their brain images showed significant increases in brain activity and healed brain fissures. In short, their psychological distress and their pain decreased as HBOT was shown through imaging to heal their brains.

Dr. Efrati’s study says: “Following HBOT, there was a significant improvement in all FMS questionnaires (widespread pain index, Fibromyalgia symptoms severity scale, Fibromyalgia functional impairment), most domains of quality of life, PTSD symptoms and psychological distress. The same significant improvements were demonstrated in the control following crossover to HBOT. Following HBOT, brain SPECT imaging demonstrated significant increase in brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, orbital frontal cortex, and sublingual area (p < 0.05). Brain microstructure improvement was seen by MRI-DTI in the anterior thalamic radiation (p = 0.0001), left Insula (p = 0.001), and the right Thalamus (p = 0.001).”

Dr. Efrati drew the conclusion that “HBOT induced significant clinical improvement that correlates with improved brain functionality and brain microstructure in CSA related FMS patients.” HBOT in this study stimulated neuroplasticity and rectified abnormal brain activity in pain-related areas of FMS patients. Additionally, this study shows that HBOT not only reduces pain but also improves the symptoms and quality of life for FMS patients.

“HBOT induced significant clinical improvement that correlates with improved brain functionality and brain microstructure in CSA related FMS patients.” Dr. Efrati

HBOT in this study stimulated neuroplasticity and rectified abnormal brain activity in pain-related areas of FMS patients. Additionally, this study shows that HBOT not only reduces pain but also improves the symptoms and quality of life for FMS patients.

Additional Studies

I then began searching for additional studies, and found several. One suggested that Fibromyalgia is a neurological disorder that is caused by abnormal activity of the nervous system and that this abnormality can be reversed with HBOT. [5]This is the content of my tooltip! Another found that HBOT improves fibromyalgia in patients with childhood sexual abuse.[6]This is the content of my tooltip!

In short, some researchers suggest that fibromyalgia is a neurological condition that in some cases is associated with PTSD that has been triggered by childhood sexual or physical abuse. As hyperbaric oxygen therapy heals the brain, it also seems to heal PTSD symptoms and the physical manifestation of the neurological condition— FMS.

These studies point to a number or potentially exciting opportunities.
They show that HBOT:

  • Improves brain activity
  • Improves brain microstructures
  • Decreases pain
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Decreases PTSD symptoms
  • Decreases psychological distress
  • Reduces fibromyalgia symptoms
  • Improves patients’ quality of life

Our Clinical Experiences

At Bay Area Hyperbarics, we coincidentally treated three patients in 2019—two females and one male—ages 56 to 64. All the patients reported multiple concussive events earlier in life. Two of the three patients reported early childhood physical or sexual abuse, and one reported childhood emotional abuse. All patients reported having had previous counseling regarding these childhood events. We treated the patients using Dr. Efrati et al., 2018 study protocol, albeit without formal testing.

We’re highlighting the subjective outcomes of our patients’ treatment here, of course with their approval. All three patients reported recovered memories that were deeply distressing, causing noticeable depression. They all received counseling during the treatment period. During follow-up interviews, two months after HBOT treatments concluded, all three patients reported significant relief from previous levels of anxiety and disturbing memories. They also reported greater happiness in their daily lives, improvement in critical thinking including mathematical capabilities, short term memory and the ability to maintain focus. All three reported being extremely pleased with the outcome. Two of the three reported that they were profoundly surprised by the positive results. Though this was not intended to be, nor is it reported as a study, the anecdotal clinical data suggests more studies are required.

  1. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Diminish Fibromyalgia Syndrome – Prospective Clinical Trial. (By Shai Efrati, et al.)

    This study provides evidence that HBOT can improve quality of life and well being of many FMS patients. It shows for the first time that HBOT can induce neuroplasticity and significantly rectify brain activity in pain related areas of FMS patients…

  2. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment of fibromyalgia: a prospective observational clinical study.(By Atzeni F, et al.)

    Fibromyalgia (FM) is a syndrome of unknown aetiology that is characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue and disordered sleep, and often associated with neuropsychiatric and cognitive symptoms. Current treatment options are only partially effective, but hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) seems to be capable of relieving some of the symptoms.

  3. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Induce Neuroplasticity and Significant Clinical Improvement in Patients Suffering From Fibromyalgia With a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse-Randomized Controlled Trial. (By Hadanny A, et al.)

    Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a persistent and debilitating disorder estimated to impair the quality of life of 2-4% of the population, with a 9:1 female to male incidence ratio. The defining symptoms of FMS include chronic widespread pain, intense pain in response to tactile pressure, prolonged muscle spasms, weakness in the limbs, nerve pain, muscle twitching.

  4. Fibromyalgia appears to be a neurological disorder that is caused by abnormal activity of the nervous system and that this abnormality can be reversed by HBOT. (By Assaf Harofeh Medical Center)

    Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), a condition considered to represent a prototype of central sensitization syndrome, can be induced by different triggers including childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Recent studies have demonstrated hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can induce neuroplasticity and improve clinical outcomes of FMS.

Lisa St. John, M.S.

Lisa St. John, M.S.

Clinic Director and Founder

Lisa is our Clinic Director and Founder. She earned her Master’s degree from Harvard University, completed a Fellowship at Stanford University, and has spent the last 30 years working in the healthcare field.

She used hyperbarics to heal her own body after a long, protracted, painful .

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We’re woman-owned and the longest running independent hyperbaric clinic in the US.

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