Belgian researchers from the University of Antwerp, the University of Brussels and Artevelde University, Ghent, performed a review of studies investigating the effects of different kinds of relaxation therapy on autonomic function, pain, fatigue and daily functioning of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.

The electronic databases PubMed and Web of Science were searched. Studies were assessed for their risk of bias and relevant information regarding relaxation was extracted.

Thirteen randomized clinical trials of sufficient quality were included, resulting in a total of 650 fibromyalgia patients (11 studies) and 88 chronic fatigue syndrome patients (3 studies).

None of the studies reported effects on autonomic function. Six studies reported the effect of guided imagery on pain and daily functioning in fibromyalgia. The acute effect of a single session of guided imagery was studied in two studies and seems beneficial for pain relief.

As to other relaxation techniques (eg. muscle relaxation, autogenic training), no conclusive evidence was found for their impact on pain and functioning in fibromyalgia patients as compared to a general, multimodal approach.

For fatigue, a multimodal approach seemed better than relaxation, as shown in the three studies on chronic fatigue syndrome patients.

The analysis concludes that there is moderate evidence for the acute effect of guided imagery on pain, although the content of the visualization is a matter of debate. Other relaxation formats and the effects on functionality and autonomic function require further study.

Citation: Meeus M1, Nijs J2, Vanderheiden T3, Baert I4, Descheemaeker F5, Struyf F4. The effect of relaxation therapy on autonomic functioning, symptoms and daily functioning in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia: a systematic review. Clinical Rehabilitation. 2014 Sep 8. pii: 0269215514542635. [Epub ahead of print] [email protected]