Cold application using a gel pack on a major back muscle for short periods of time can significantly decrease pain scores in fibromyalgia patients, according to new research.
The study, “The effects of local cold application on fibromyalgia pain,” was published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases.
The use of whole-body cold applications (called cryotherapy) has been a therapeutic strategy for fibromyalgia patients, with reported short-term pain relief. In some studies, pain reduction is felt two hours after the application and may last up to 24 hours.
Now, researchers investigated the effects of local cold application on pain using gel packs applied to the trapezius muscles of fibromyalgia patients. The trapezius is a major back muscle that’s responsible for moving, rotating, and stabilizing the shoulder blades, lifting the shoulders, and holding up the neck and head.
The trapezius covers most of the upper back and the exterior of the neck and is a common source of pain in fibromyalgia patients. However, “a review of the literature revealed no studies to date on cold applications to the trapezius muscles of [fibromyalgia] patients,” the researchers wrote.
The study was conducted in one group of 55 fibromyalgia patients who went to a rheumatology outpatient clinic in Turkey for treatment. Patients were submitted to a 10-minute cold application administered to their trapezius muscle.
The pain was evaluated four times – before the cold application, and 10 minutes, 90 minutes, and 24 hours after the therapy. The pain score was monitored through the visual analog scale (VAS).
The results showed that the patients’ mean pain score was significantly higher before the application of the cold gel packs. Specifically, 6.45 vs. 2.75 at 10 minutes; 2.45 at 90 minutes; and 3.36 at 24 hours.
The findings show that pain scores in fibromyalgia patients decreased 10 minutes and 90 minutes after the cold applications. At 24 hours, the pain score increased when compared to the earlier time-points, but still remained lower than the mean score of 6.45 before the cold application.
Overall, this study “suggests a new method of controlling pain in [fibromyalgia] patients and will serve as a guide for pain management, especially in nursing practice,” the researchers concluded.
But they added that additional studies are needed to assess the maximum duration and mechanisms of local cold applications to the trapezius of fibromyalgia patients.