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Brain Imaging Helps to Explain the Fibromyalgia Brain

Article by Linda Chollar

Fibromyalgia is a challenging health condition of overall chronic pain that has baffled science to find a cause or a clinical treatment. Research continues and medications have been approved but most health care providers agree that a multi-disciplinary approach of both conventional and complementary medicine is needed to help with the collections of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. 

Studies have documented that the ‘fibromyalgia brain’ amplifies the incoming signals it receives to make pain worse and on top of that, the signals relating to movement and emotions just don’t process well. The fibromyalgia sufferer already knows that something is going on upstairs, as they call it ‘brain fog’ because they can’t absorb new information or remember where they put keep everyday items. 

Brain imaging research by Jeff Hargrove, Phd with EEG tests that measure electrical acitivity of the brain on fibromyaligia subjects discovered key abnormalities in the frontal area of the brain. This impairs networking connections with other parts of the brain. This area of the brain is considered our emotional control center and is involved in motor function, attention, planning and social behavior. 

Hargrove’s study suggests stimulating the brain with the goal of normalizing its function and thus reducing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. What’s the suggested procedure? Placing electrodes much like the EEG sensors on the head of the patient for 22 treatments over 11 weeks. Benefits of this investigational procedure suggests it could be the wave of the future for treating fibromyalgia. 

There is research that shows we could stimulate the frontal brain in a more natural way.  A method that is easily accessible, affordable and effective. That method is foot reflexology,  a natural touch therapy applied to specific points in the feet to stimulate corresponding areas of the body.  Using fMRI, research showed in 1998 that reflexology technique applied to a reflex area in the big toe activates the right temporal lobe.  Another EEG study by Jesus Manzanares, MD shows that brain wave frequencies change when reflex points in the big toe are stimulated with reflexology technique. He used these findings to determine the correct amount of pressure and duration needed to induce Theta brain waves associated with deep relaxation of the central nervous system.

Can foot reflexology aid in normalizing brain function to reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia?  Could the theta waves induced with reflexology explain why people report a ‘good nights sleep’ and reduced pain after receiving a reflexology treatment. Could this be a wave of the future for a natural approach to treat fibromyalgia? 

Hargrove’s studies imply that a busy cortical activity (stress level) is going on in the parts of the brain close to motor (movement) and sensory cortex (painful sensations). Manzanares’ studies show that the opposite occurs during reflexology with specific pressure sensitive receptors of the toe signaling the frontal area of the brain to relax. Could we get these two guys to meet over tea and compare brain imaging?

I hope we continue to see more studies on how the fibromyalgia brain functions.  As more healthcare professionals, complementary and conventional,  understand the neural communication of this syndrome, the more we can help the fibromayalia sufferer to develop a pro-active self- management plan to regain their balance and quality of life. 



Hargrove,  JB, “Brain Function Tests”,  Fibromyalgia Network. October 2010, Issue 91, pp 10-11

Kunz and Kunz, Medical Applications of Reflexology.  1999, pg 13

Manzanares, J., Principles of Reflexology II, 2000

Manzanares, J., “Nerve Theory”. Therapeutic Reflexology. 2010, pp 18



Copyright 2011 Linda Chollar — All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint or distribute for non-commercial use only, with this (c) statment intact: Linda Chollar, Author. Source: