Floatation (sometimes referred to by the acronym REST for reduced environmental stimulation therapy) is a form of hydrotherapy where an individual, after disrobing and taking a shower, climbs into a shallow pool of dense salt water in a private room. He or she selects the environmental conditions (music or no music, lights or no lights) then lies back and releases earthly cares. Typically, a float lasts for about an hour. While floatation can benefit almost anyone, this blog will focus on how floatation can reduce symptoms associated with fibromyalgia and post traumatic stress syndrome.
The Mayo Clinic describes fibromyalgia as “a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.” “While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.” Floatation falls into the relaxation and stress reduction category. Lying in a dense magnesium salt solution allows muscles to release tension thereby reducing pain.
An informal consortium of scientists and entrepreneurs organized a research project to evaluate the efficacy of floatation as a means of treating fibromyalgia. There initial findings were presented at the 2012 Float Summit. As reported on their fibromyalgiaflotationproject.com web site, “the results of that study provided compelling evidence that flotation REST can greatly improve the lives of people with fibromyalgia by significantly decreasing their pain, muscle tension, anxiety and stress. It also significantly increased freedom of movement, energy, mood and quality of sleep. Most of these improvements showed longer-term relief as the participants floated repeatedly. This initial study had participants float once a week for three weeks but case studies suggested that extended use of flotation REST can reduce fibromyalgia symptoms to near zero. It was decided to explore the longer-term possibilities by creating a longer study.”
Two case studies are also shared on the web site. Tina had tried a variety of medications with limited success. She decided to try floatation and experienced “immediate pain relief and no breakthrough pain for 17 hours”. Her bi-weekly floats thereafter reduced her pain by 90% as subjectively reported by Tina.
Brigitta had had digestive system difficulties taking her fibromyalgia pain medications. Other therapies including physical therapy, warm baths, acupuncture and exercise helped somewhat. She tried floatation and found it further reduced her symptoms. She floats once a month and says “Floatation has made my life considerably better. I feel that it’s easier for me to take each day as it comes.”
Michele Podosek, who lives in Rochester, NY had had significant pain and a general lack of body flexibility associated with her fibromyalgia. She sought relief through a variety of alternatives including medication, acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, ROLFing and cranial sacral work. These treatments often lessened her pain but the relief only lasted a day. She wanted something more natural and decided to follow a homeopath’s recommendation to try floatation. After her first float Michele noticed an improvement and subsequent floats provided even more relief. Prior to floatation Michele estimates her pain level was an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. She floats once every one to two weeks and reports her pain is 3 to 4. While some pain is still there, her mobility has improved significantly allowing her to live a more normal lifestyle.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD “as a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event.” Perhaps the most widely recognized form of PTSD arises in military personnel who have fought oversees and have seen the carnage of war. One Air Force veteran, Trey Hearn, started a float center in Florida. One of his motivations was to help fellow veterans deal with PTSD problems. In his words (as reported in an article on the web site military1.com) “The biggest draw of floating… are the benefits to military veterans and sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The lack of stimuli allows the brain to confront images or memories they have previously suppressed.” “What is actually helping people on our PTSD program is, when they get into the tank and get to that point, now they can address it (the cause of their stress) in a calm environment where there’s nothing else there that could hurt them. They feel like it’s secure, and they’re safe, and they can approach the traumatic events in more of an internal counseling session with themselves.”
In that same article retired Chief Master Sgt. Michael A Roberts gave a comment about his experience. ‘The practice of seeing multiple different medical specialists over and over exacerbated his stress stemming from the incident that caused his injuries.’ “Float therapy is far superior to other traditional routes, [such as] varying types of drug regiments – one way or another they just temporarily overpower your brain and cause some form of blurred reality… When I’m in the float pod the absolute serenity and calmness is entirely therapeutic…My pains and stresses are automatically lifted away without me having to say a word to anyone…or take any new pill.”
Laureate Institute in Tulsa, OK did a study on floatation as a means of reducing stress, anxiety and symptoms associated with PTSD. Researchers recruited 50 individuals who had some form of anxiety and stress-related disorders including PTSD. Each subject answered a questionnaire, Spielberger Anxiety Inventory, before and after float sessions. “Participants reported significant reductions in stress, muscle tension, pain, depression and negative affect, accompanied by a significant improvement in mood characterized by increases in serenity, relaxation, happiness and overall well-being.” The before and after change in anxiety were more robust than the results found in a group of 30 non-anxious participants.
Sonder Mind and Body has created a “float explorer” initiative that seeks feedback from individuals suffering from fibromyalgia and PTSD. While not a rigorously designed study, Sonder would like anecdotal feedback from people attempting to seek relief through floatation. These personal stories will not disclose the names of participants but will share the comments with others. If you are a therapist working with clients who might benefit from float experiences and would like to know more about this program and possibly be a sponsor, please contact Sonder Mind and Body at 336-663-7562.