Fibromyalgia symptoms of pain and exhaustion can take a heavy toll on your life. While treatment for the symptoms has improved in recent years, each patient is different. It can take a while to find the right balance of lifestyle changes, traditional medicine and complementary approaches that are right for you. Consider trying these non-medicinal options—after you’ve discussed them with your doctor.
Ease into exercise
Exercise is an important aspect of almost any fibromyalgia treatment plan. One study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Group Exercise, Education, and Combination Self-management in Women With Fibromyalgia: A Randomized Trial, Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007;167 (20): 2192) found that twice-weekly exercise (progressive walking, strength training and stretching) produced significant improvements in symptoms and physical functioning.
Regular exercise provides physical and mental benefits, like higher energy levels, lower anxiety, improved blood flow and increased pain tolerance. Water exercises in a warm pool have proven to be particularly beneficial for people with fibromyalgia and can be less strenuous also.
You have to exercise properly, though. Starting off too suddenly or doing the wrong kind of exercises can make your symptoms worse. Avoid intense or high-impact exercises, such as running or jumping rope. Walking, bicycling, swimming and water aerobics are better choices. Start off small—working out for just a few minutes at a time—and build your way up to 30 minutes a day, three to five times per week.
Stretching is also important to improve the range of motion in your muscles and to keep them loose and prevent cramping. Some people find yoga classes helpful too.
Diet and supplements
A healthy diet won’t eliminate fibromyalgia, but watching what you eat may help to ease your symptoms. In general, a low-fat, high-fiber diet is best, complete with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and chicken and fish. Red meat is difficult to digest and may worsen your symptoms. Some doctors also recommend avoiding sugar, aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco to see if it eases symptoms.
Dietary supplements may also improve your symptoms. Many doctors recommend a general multivitamin and calcium supplements to their fibromyalgia patients. Flaxseed and fish oils may help to ease inflammation and pain in some people. Probiotics, which can be found in some yogurt, may improve your digestive symptoms. Let your doctor know which supplements and vitamins you’re taking, because they can interfere with your medications.
Sleep, relaxation and massage
It’s important to get plenty of rest, but the pain of fibromyalgia can make it difficult to sleep. Learning relaxation techniques such as breathing, visual imagery and meditation can reduce stress and make it easier to get a better night’s sleep.
Another great way to relax—and sometimes alleviate pain—is to get a massage. Deep tissue massage focuses on the deep layers of muscle, while other forms of massage, such as Shiatsu, tend to target tender points and ease tension in the muscles around them.
Acupuncture, acupressure and chiropractic care
Study results on acupuncture and fibromyalgia have been mixed. Acupuncture seems to have an effect on the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, which may ease fibromyalgia symptoms and increase your pain tolerance. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but without the needles. Though it’s probably not as effective, you can self-administer acupressure during flare-ups.
Chiropractic care is also used as a tool to treat fibromyalgia. A chiropractic adjustment can relieve back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain and headaches, as well ease tender point pain and increase the range of motion in your spine.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback
When other forms of treatments don’t work satisfactorily, cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback may help. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you to identify negative thought patterns that exacerbate pain, such as anger, sadness and anxiety and replace them with positive thoughts.
Biofeedback, on the other hand, tries to identify what’s going on in your body while you’re in pain, such as an increased pulse or tensing of muscles. For example, a machine may be used to identify the muscle tension that may occur when you are in pain. Once you’ve identified these signs, biofeedback helps you to learn how to control them, such as by relaxing your muscles, which may help to reduce the pain.
Managing fibromyalgia typically requires a mixture of treatments, because one is not likely to eliminate your symptoms on its own. However, in the right combination, and often with the right medications, you can become virtually symptom free or at least can reduce the symptoms significantly.
Reviewed by Vikas Garg, M.D., MSA