Small Study Finds Fibromyalgia Sufferers May Get Relief From
Tanning Beds

WINSTON-SALEM—Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic disorder that inflicts patients with widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness in localized areas of the neck, body, arms and legs. Patients often complain of pain, stiffness, fatigue, sleep disturbances as well as other symptoms. Three to six million people in the U.S. suffer from the effects of fibromyalgia and a majority of those are women.


While some who suffer from the disorder have discovered the benefits of therapeutic heat, researchers are starting to take note that many patients have sought comfort from tanning beds that seem to alleviate some of their pain and emphasis is now being placed on the ultraviolet light emitted from the bulbs inside the tanning beds.


The preliminary study, conducted at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, came about from a previous study focused on tanning addiction in which some of the participants reported anecdotally some improvement in their back pain. A report on the new study appears in the January issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine as reported by Steven R. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D. and director of the Center for Dermatology Research at Wake Forest Baptist.


“We decided to look at fibromyalgia patients because there is such a big need for treatment,” Feldman said. “We knew from the tanning addiction study that the UV light was doing something for participants beyond the obvious.”


The study found that those that received UV light did report modest improvements, however due to the relatively small number of participants, more data was suggested to see any type of conclusive results.


“Fibromyalgia syndrome is the most common cause of chronic diffuse pain. Unfortunately, current available medical therapies offer meaningful improvement in symptoms for less than half of the patients,” according to Kenneth S. O’Rourke, M.D., a rheumatologist at Wake Forest Baptist and a research in the study. “The evaluation of alternative therapies for patients with fibromyalgia syndrome, based on our increasing understanding of how pain signals are generated and sustained, is an important pursuit at many clinical research centers.”


During the tanning addiction study, researchers found that the tan generated by the UV light may only be one reason why many people use them. Research seemed to indicate that the UV light exposure perhaps generates a relaxing effect, which can be a significant reason why many tanning bed users keep coming back for more.


Currently, fibromyalgia patients are often treated with medications such as antidepressants, analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) as well the use of non-medicinal approaches such as specific exercise programs or physical therapy.