Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body. It causes tender spots at specific points of the body that only hurt when you press on them. It can also cause fatigue, poor sleep, cognitive disturbances and mood issues. Together, these symptoms can disturb your work and home life. Symptoms tend to come and go, but they may never go away completely. Fibromyalgia doesn’t harm your muscles, joints or organs.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Complementary therapies and home treatments like exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction can also help improve symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at what causes fibromyalgia, some complementary therapies and home care you can do to alleviate symptoms.
What causes fibromyalgia?
No one knows for sure what causes fibromyalgia. But experts have some ideas, such as:
- Nerve cells may be too sensitive.
- Chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) may be out of balance.
Many people connect the start of their symptoms to a certain event. Examples include the flu, an injury or surgery, or emotional trauma or an uptick in stress. An event of this type combined with other things, such as being more sensitive to pain, may lead to fibromyalgia in some people.
What types of complementary therapy are used to treat fibromyalgia?
Complementary treatments or complementary medicine are terms that refer to treatments you may receive alongside your Western medical treatments. Complementary treatments that have been used to treat fibromyalgia include:
- Chiropractic therapy
- Dietary supplements, herbal products and vitamins
- Massage therapy
- Tai chi and qi gong
Most mind and body practices—such as acupuncture, tai chi, and yoga—are safe when used under the care of a well-trained professional. Choose an instructor or practitioner as carefully as you would choose a doctor.
Before engaging in complementary treatments, talk with your doctor about the safety and potential side effects of the treatment. Remember that fibromyalgia doesn't physically harm you or damage your body. A treatment that could be harmful may not be worth the risk, especially when its benefits are unproven. Avoid treatments that may be harmful, such as unusual diets or excessive vitamin or mineral supplements. (A daily multiple vitamin-mineral supplement is okay. Try to avoid taking more than 100% of the recommended dietary allowance for any vitamin or mineral unless your doctor prescribes a special supplement.)
Caring for yourself when you have fibromyalgia
Home treatment is the most important part of treating fibromyalgia. There are many things you can do over time to treat your symptoms.
- Exercise regularly. Of all the treatments for fibromyalgia, cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise may have the most benefit in reducing pain and other symptoms and in improving your overall condition. Work with a physical therapist or other professional who has expertise with fibromyalgia to build an exercise program that works for you, and then stick to it.
- Avoid triggers. Some people are able to identify triggers for their fibromyalgia. Avoid things that make your symptoms worse if you can. Common triggers include cold or damp weather, poor sleep, fatigue, physical or emotional stress, and being too active.
- Improve sleep. Sleep disturbances seem to both cause and result from some of the other symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as pain. Learn good sleep habits and try to get enough sleep each night.
- Relieve pain. Heat therapy, massage, gentle exercise, and short-term use of nonprescription pain relievers may be helpful.
- Reduce stress. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress may help reduce your pain.
- Learn about fibromyalgia. The more you know about fibromyalgia, the more control you will have over your symptoms. People who feel more in control also tend to be more active and report less pain and other symptoms.
- Manage your memory problems. Feeling as though you are not thinking clearly—sometimes called "fibro fog"—increases stress and can make memory problems worse. Learning ways to manage your memory problems can make you feel less stressed. Simple things like writing yourself notes can help you feel more in control.
- Have a good-health attitude. It's hard to stay positive when you don't feel well. But a good attitude helps you focus less on your challenges and feel healthier.
The best results occur when you take an active, committed role in your own treatment. You may need to adjust your lifestyle to fit home treatment, especially regular exercise, into your daily routine. It may take time to find an approach that works for you. Try to be patient. Keep in mind that consistent home treatment usually can help relieve or control symptoms of fibromyalgia.
If you're struggling with fibromyalgia or another rheumatic disease, you can schedule an appointment or establish care with Parkview Rheumatology by calling 260-266-8820.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.