German scientists have demonstrated that a complementary therapy combining psychology and the teaching of relaxation techniques can substantially reduce symptoms in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) when combined with regular treatment.
The results come from a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the therapy comparing it to 'enhanced medical care' (EMC) which consisted of regular treatments IBS patients receive plus two counselling sessions. RCTs are considered the most reliable type of study in medical science.
Functional relaxation (FR) is a therapy originally conceived by Marianne Fuchs decades ago and can be described as a form of psychotherapy focused on the body that involves teaching the patient relaxation techniques aimed at maintaining the balance of the nervous system. By achieving this it is presumed symptoms of IBS may improve because tension in the muscles of the gut are relaxed, relieving pain and promoting normal bowel habits.
The European Association for Body-Psychotherapy (EABP), an organisation dedicated to compiling research data and other information on body psychotherapy, describes FR in the following terms:
"The medium of functional relaxation is the body (i.e., body, soul, and mind) and its 'rhythm,' which penetrates and supports the individual human sphere. One who is in ageement with his/her body is also in agreement with its surroundings; one who sets up tensions between the world and the self loses personal rhythm. In body language, this loss is manifested in the form of tensions. Functional relaxation approaches such tensions individually, beginning at the spine and the joints and continuing through the inner cavities and space."
The German clinical trial of FR in IBS patients involved 39 participants receiving FR sessions over a five week period and 39 participants receiving EMC over the same period. A questionnaire measuring the severity of symptoms was completed by all participants before the treatment began, after the treatment period, and a final time three months after completion of treatment.
The result, published in the online edition of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine show that FR was significantly more effective than EMC and that the benefits, both physical and mental, the patients who received FR achieved remained after three months.
The researchers conclude that functional relaxation is a complementary therapy that has significant and long-term benefits for those suffering from IBS.
Source: Lahmann C Röhricht F Sauer N Noll-Hussong M Ronel J Henrich G von Arnim A Loew T (2010) Functional Relaxation as Complementary Therapy in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trial Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine [Epub ahead of print]