A scientific HBOT study done in Israel involved 60 female patients suffering with fibromyalgia. All patients reported a reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life following hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Multiple assessments were done including a tender point count, pain threshold testing. measures of functional impairment (Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire—FIQ), symptom severity (SCL-90 questionnaire), and Quality of life (SF-36 questionnaire). Follow-up SPECT scan brain imaging was done to measure the rate of regional cerebral blood flow before and after treatment.
The conclusion of the study was that all measures - pain sensitivity, number of tender points, psychological distress, physical functioning and quality of life - were significantly improved after HBOT. All patients who completed the study (12 dropped out for various reasons) reported improvement after the 40 session treatment protocol. At the conclusion of the study, patients were able to reduce their pain medication significantly. Many also reported improvements in sleep and energy levels. In something of a surprise, some of the patients felt worse before they felt better. For some participants, it took up to 20 sessions to begin to turn the corner on their pain, but ultimately all improved.
To quantify the subjective improvements reported by the patients, scientists turned to the results of the SPECT scan images. Changes in brain function (documented by the scans) mirrored the symptom improvement found. Prior to the study, the FM patients had higher activity in the somatosensory cortex and reduced activity in the frontal, cingulate, medial temporal and cerebellar cortices of the brain. After HBOT, their brain patterns started to shift towards normal: somatosensory cortex activity decreased and frontal, cingulate, medial temporal and cerebellar cortices activity increased.
Fundamentally, the activity in parts of the brain that sensed pain decreased and activity in the parts of the brain that control or interpret pain signals increased.
The authors further suggested HBOT may have increased the natural "feel-good" chemicals in the brain. Increased levels of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) turned on the "inhibitory pain pathways" leading to the spinal cord. Compromised inhibitory pathways - the signal routes that reduce the intensity of pain signals leading from the spinal cord (the body) to the brain - appear to play an important role in fibromyalgia. Poorly functioning pathways allow the pain regulating portions of the brain to be overwhelmed by pain signals.
To read the study in its entirety, click here: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Diminish Fibromyalgia Syndrome - Prospective Clinical Trial