A new device that combines low-intensity laser light and therapeutic ultrasound considerably reduces the pain experienced by patients with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that involves widespread nonarticular high-intensity pain lasting longer than three months.

It affects 3% to 10% of the adult population, with a higher prevalence in women. Although patients experience pain in practically the entire body, they do not present with injuries, inflammation or tissue degeneration. Its cause is unknown, and no cure has been found so far.

The standard treatment comprises physical exercise, anti-inflammatory and analgesic medication, and psychotherapy, as patients typically complain of extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, depression, and anxiety.

A scientific study now shows that application to the palms instead of to points on different parts of the body has better analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. As a result of pain reduction, patients also sleep better and can perform daily tasks with less discomfort. Their overall quality of life also improves.

Tender points

The idea of testing the effects of the new device in application to the palms of the hands arose from a review of the scientific literature.

"Previous studies showed that patients with fibromyalgia had larger numbers of neuroreceptors near blood vessels in the hands. Some patients even had red points in this region," said Juliana da Silva Amaral Bruno, a physical therapist and first author of the study.

Fibromyalgia 

"We, therefore, changed focus to test the direct action of the technique on these sensory cells in the hands rather than just so-called pain trigger points, such as the trapezius, which is typically very painful in fibromyalgia patients," said Bruno.

The study showed that application to the hands affects all pain points in the patient's body. The same group had previously published an article in the Journal of Novel Physiotherapies describing a case study of the device applied to pain points. Although the results of this first study were satisfactory, global pain reduction proved impossible.

"Combined application of ultrasound and laser to pain points such as the trapezius was highly effective, but did not succeed in reaching the other main innervations affected by the disorder," Bruno said. "Application to the palms of the hands had a global result, restoring the patient's quality of life and eliminating pain."

According to the study, the optimization of peripheral and brain blood flow via the activation of sensitive areas of the hands during the sessions normalized the patient's pain threshold. "It's important to bear in mind that this isn't a cure, but a form of treatment that doesn't require the use of drugs," Aquino said.

According to Aquino, the new device that combines ultrasound and laser therapy should come to market in early 2019. It is currently being tested for other pathologies by researchers at the FAPESP RIDC.