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We have written previously about the proven benefits of therapy dogs for people suffering chronic pain. Now, the results of a further study – Better Together – a joint project between the Mayo Institute and the Purina Institute, have been published. Its aim was to discover evidence of whether therapy dogs can help manage the physical and mental health of people suffering from Fibromyalgia.
What are the symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
Typically, a Fibromyalgia sufferer will experience a range of symptoms, but it is likely that the most debilitating of those will be widespread pain throughout their body. The condition is characterised by pain in the soft fibrous tissues such as the muscles, tendons and ligaments, often likened to flu-like symptoms of widespread aching, but constant and unrelenting. In addition to pain, sufferers commonly report symptoms as diverse as:
- Extreme sensitivity
- Poor (non-restorative) sleep
- Cognitive problems
- Irritable bowel syndrome
It is now widely accepted that Fibromyalgia is one of a number of conditions which result from central sensitisation. Indeed, many of our clients with Fibromyalgia are additionally suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is also a result of central sensitisation.
It has been estimated that up to 6% of the world’s population may suffer from fibromyalgia. While it has some effective treatment strategies, most people live with chronic symptoms and look for non-conventional treatments for some relief.
The Better Together study involved 221 fibromyalgia sufferers who were assigned randomly to either a treatment group or a control group. Importantly, participants had been screened to exclude those who were fearful of, or allergic to, dogs. The treatment group received a number of sessions of activity and interaction with a therapy dog.
Following just a single session with a therapy dog, the treatment group were assessed to be in a more positive emotional-physiological state, including experiencing a greater decrease in pain compared to the control group. People in the treatment group saw their oxytocin levels increase significantly, while their heart rates decreased. Oxytocin, which is known as the ‘love hormone’, promotes feelings of love, bonding and well-being, and is thought to reduce anxiety.
Dr Arya Mohabbat, an assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, said: “The Better Together study showed therapy animals could be an evidence-based treatment option, and health care professionals should strongly consider using animal-assisted activity in the care of their patients with fibromyalgia.”