Living with fibromyalgia can be a daily struggle. The physical and emotional duress it can cause requires a vigilant, positive approach to treatment.
1. Learn about your condition
There is still a great deal that the medical community doesn't know about fibromyalgia, its causes and potential treatments. Learning everything you can about the disease will help you to understand this disease better and also help you to have more productive conversations with your doctor about what may work best for you.
It pays to stay up to date. Those who do were aware when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2007 gave its first approval of a drug for fibromyalgia. They also know which other medications the American College of Rheumatology lists as helpful for many fibromyalgia patients (antidepressants) and which it considers generally less useful (painkillers such as opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). And they know about recent university research confirming that fibromyalgia is a physiological condition, which some doctors have in the recent past disputed.
2. Find the right doctor
It is important that you find a physician who understands the diagnosis and treatment of fibromyalgia and is willing to listen to and work with you. This is a lifelong condition, and it is vital that you find a knowledgeable doctor with whom you feel comfortable.
Keep communication with your doctor open. It may help to make a list of everything that needs to be discussed and bring it along to appointments. All treatment options, including those you can do on their own, should be discussed thoroughly with your doctor before attempting. Your physician can also help you evaluate how effective any new treatments are and whether they are causing any unwanted results. You want to make sure that the side effects of a medication or other treatment aren't worse than the symptoms it relieves.
3. Have the right mental approach
A good place to start when dealing with the challenges of your condition is with your mental approach. Understand that you may experience greater difficulty with everyday activities, have more pain, and take longer to recover than many people. Understanding this will make it easier for you to set realistic goals at work, in your activities and get the most that you can out of life.
4. Stay active
As if you needed another reason, remember to remain active as much as possible. Those aches and pains that are telling you to stay put will likely worsen unless you get up and get moving. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease pain and increase endurance and may be essential to managing fibromyalgia. However, it must also be done in a way that is wise and effective.
Avoid activities that involve eccentric contraction (contracting and lengthening at the same time, such as with reaching motions). These types of motion have been shown to worsen fibromyalgia pain. Rather, start at a low level of exercise and increase your effort level gradually, working with low-impact forms of exercise such as walking or swimming. And remember to alternate the type of exercise that you're doing every 20 minutes or so to get the maximum benefit. In the beginning the exercises should be learned from a physician or physical therapist.
5. Stretch, breathe, relax
It's an unfortunate truth: If you have fibromyalgia, you are more likely to experience more pain that lasts longer than other people. In order to minimize this reality, be sure to use all of the available tools at your disposal. Muscle soreness can be minimized by relaxing, using heat therapy, practicing steady-breathing exercises and staying adequately hydrated.
Also, don't forget to stretch those achy muscles. Stretching is proven to lengthen muscles and maintain that length, as well as help them relax, improve their functionality and decrease the associated pain. This should all be part of a greater commitment to exercise, which has been shown to decrease fibromyalgia symptoms and reduce their impact on your life.
6. Get enough sleep
Another (often overlooked) aspect of dealing with the day-to-day struggles of fibromyalgia is sleep. Striving for restful sleep is a key to treating the condition. Tips include:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Make sure your sleep environment is quiet and not distracting, as well as comfortable in terms of accommodations and temperature.
- Stay away from sugary snacks and caffeinated beverages before bedtime.
- Use relaxation exercises when trying to drift off. This can take your mind off of the pain and stress of your condition and help you sleep better.
- Avoid exercising within three hours of bedtime. This will throw off your internal clock and make it harder to turn in at the end of a long day.
If none of this seems to be working for you, some sleep medications could be of use to you, especially if you are saddled with other conditions that also disturb sleep, such as restless legs syndrome.
7. Explore alternatives
You might also want to explore the benefits of complementary or alternative therapies, though you should consult a physician before doing so. Make sure you only work with therapists who are trained and educated in dealing with fibromyalgia. Remember that all therapies will not necessarily provide equal benefit, and what works for one person may not work for you. Among the many options available are therapeutic massage, relaxation techniques, acupressure, acupuncture, chiropractic care, biofeedback, hypnotherapy and many others.
Don't feel as if you're the only person who has ever had to deal with this unfortunate condition; you're not. Many fibromyalgia patients have trouble coping with this disorder. Remember that medical research studies in this and other areas is always going on, making a breakthrough in prevention or treatment a possibility.
If you find yourself overwhelmed, psychological counseling may also help you deal with your troubles in a way that is therapeutic and positive. Fibromyalgia support groups can also provide you with important information to keep you up to date, as well as encouragement and a more hopeful outlook.
Reviewed by Vikas Garg, M.D., MSA