Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes abnormal pain perception processing. Its distinctive features are widespread muscle pain and tenderness. Moreover, it may be accompanied by fatigue, sleep problems, and psychiatric issues.
It is estimated that more than five million Americans over the age of 18 have fibromyalgia. In fact, it’s the second most common disorder that rheumatologists encounter.
Exercising with Fibromyalgia
If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, try to be as active as you can.
The most effective way to cope with fibromyalgia is by participating in regular, low-intensity exercise — such as walking and swimming — since it improves sleep and eases both fatigue and pain. It is recommended that you aim to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes, most days of the week. You can even exercise in multiple chucks throughout the day as long as it totals the recommended 20 to 30 minutes.
A consultation with a certified trainer, your doctor, or rheumatologist is recommended before embarking on or significantly changing the intensity of exercise. Overall, regular exercise may decrease pain and stiffness, reduce stress, and increase your sense of control over fibromyalgia. Plus, you may improve your quality of sleep, which can help curb the condition’s associated fatigue.
Improving Your Sleep Quality
If you’re not getting restorative rest, consider the following tips:
- Reserve the bed for sleeping only;
- Keep the room dark, quiet, cool, and distraction-free;
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule;
- Ban the use of computers, tablets, and mobile devices in the bedroom as well as late-night TV watching, and;
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime since it can disrupt sleep.
For better sleep at night, avoid caffeine from the late afternoon on. Caffeine may compound stress, as it stimulates the heart and central nervous system and can increase nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. According to WebMD, drinking “four or more cups of a caffeinated beverage a day has been linked with more [fibromyalgia] pain.” Also, don’t forget to watch out for food with hidden caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee, soft drinks, and tea.
Additionally, you should consider a visit to a sleep specialist for a sleep study to rule out obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a common sleep disorder among fibromyalgia patients and shares some of the symptoms with the condition.
Managing Your Diet
There isn’t just one diet that will help fibromyalgia patients deal with their symptoms. Considering there are a wide array of foods that appear to make symptoms worse, an elimination diet is the best way to determine which foods cause your symptoms to worsen. An elimination diet sees you excluding certain food groups each week to see if symptoms improve.
Along with the elimination diet, don’t forget about maintaining proper nutrition. Proper nutrition is very important since it boosts energy levels and helps avoid other health problems.
General dietary strategies to consider include:
- Increasing intake of fresh fruits and vegetables;
- Drinking plenty of water;
- Eating more plants than meat, and;
- Reducing your intake of sugar.
A study published in the Maturitas found that light to moderate alcohol drinkers (three to seven drinks per week) had less severe symptoms than nondrinkers. Additionally, people with fibromyalgia tend to have low levels of vitamin D. This deficiency could lead to the worsening of pain and other symptoms. A simple blood test can tell if you’re level is low/insufficient.
Managing Stress Levels
Decreasing your stress levels can go a long way toward quelling the symptoms of fibromyalgia. There are numerous techniques, including meditation, mind-body practices, and acupuncture, aimed at management and reduction of stress levels.
According to WebMD, mindfulness meditation “teaches you to focus your thoughts in a positive way. The more you practice it, the more pain relief it may bring.”
From sleep disturbances to fatigue to mood disorders, mind-body practices are great ways to help ease symptoms. While these practices have a similar effect on symptoms as exercise, they also include focused breathing, which reduces stress.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine. It has practitioners insert very thin needles into your skin at different points on your body. that may be helpful to some with fibromyalgia. An article from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews provides scientific evidence that acupuncture may help improve the pain and stiffness associated with fibromyalgia.
Some natural treatments for fibromyalgia to consider include:
- 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): This natural amino acid helps your body produce serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates your mood. A review study published in Rheumatology International suggested 5-HTP can improve certain fibromyalgia symptoms. In particular, pain, morning stiffness, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
- S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe): Although this substance is produced naturally by your body, it is also available as a dietary supplement. Research published in Rheumatology concluded that SAMe helps relieve pain, morning stiffness, and fatigue. Moreover, it improves mood and sleep. However, using SAMe comes with some mild side effects like stomach upset and dizziness.
- Melatonin: This natural hormone is often used in supplements to improve sleep quality. On top of improving your quality of sleep, it eases fibromyalgia pain.
Most doctors diagnose fibromyalgia by taking an adequate medical history, performing a thorough physical examination, obtaining X-rays, CT scans, and/or MRIs, and requesting a few simple blood tests.
Please take your medications prescribed for fibromyalgia and other medical conditions per your doctor’s orders.
In addition to your primary care doctor, physiatrists, psychologists, and physical and occupational therapists may be able to help you deal with specific symptoms of fibromyalgia. These other doctors often practice together at pain and rheumatology clinics.
Tips for Treating Fibromyalgia Flare-Ups
While some people experience certain symptoms on a regular basis, for some, the pain associated with fibromyalgia tends to wax and wane. These waxes and wanes are known as flare-ups of the disease. Often happening without warning, flare-ups are more likely to occur if a person is under a lot of stress. According to Medical News Today, a “flare-up can last anywhere from a few days to weeks at a time.”
The factors that may trigger a fibromyalgia flare-up include:
- Changes in diet and hormones;
- Physical or psychological stress;
- Busy/stressful schedule;
- Stressful events;
- Trauma and/or accidents;
- Lack of sleep, and;
- Changes in temperature or weather.
Creating a Support Network
Fibromyalgia not only puts stress on you but on those around you.
Communication is critical. Therefore, your loved ones need to know what makes your symptoms worse and what makes them better.
Most of important of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, others with fibromyalgia, or a counselor. Support groups can play an important part in the lives of people with a chronic illness such as fibromyalgia. Whether in person or online, they provide emotional support, information, and tips for coping with the disease.
Currently, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, medication and lifestyle changes can help treat fibromyalgia and reduce the likelihood of flare-ups. More treatment options and clearer diagnostic criteria are now available for fibromyalgia. With early diagnosis and intervention, those with fibromyalgia can lead full, productive lives.