Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread pain around the body. It is characterized by extensive musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. The pain is believed to stem from a problem in the way the nervous system processes pain signals.
Symptoms often present themselves after an event like physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no specific triggering event.
Fibromyalgia also causes a number of other symptoms, such as:
- lack of energy
- trouble sleeping
- depression or anxiety
- memory problems
- trouble concentrating
- muscle twitches or cramps
- numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- itching, burning, and other skin problems
While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.
Medications can assist in reducing fibromyalgia pain and improve sleep. The most common choices include:
- Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others) may be helpful.
- Antidepressants: May help ease the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. Your doctor may prescribe amitriptyline or the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine to help promote sleep.
- Anti-seizure drugs: Medications designed to treat epilepsy are often useful in reducing certain types of pain.
A variety of different therapies can help reduce the effect that fibromyalgia has on your body and your life. Examples include:
- Physical therapy. A licensed physical therapist has a background in anatomy and kinesiology — the study of movement. Physical therapists can help people with fibromyalgia use their muscles, stretch for flexibility, and move their joints through range-of-motion exercises.
- Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can help you make adjustments to your work area or the way you perform certain tasks that will cause less stress on your body.
- Massage therapy. This is one of the oldest methods of health care still in practice. Massage therapy is the most widely used type of complementary and alternative medicine in hospitals because it reduces stress, helps relieve pain, decreases feelings of anxiety, and increases general overall well-being. It involves the use of different manipulative techniques to move your body’s muscles and soft tissues. Massage can also reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, improve range of motion in your joints and increase production of your body’s natural painkillers.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a Chinese medical system based on restoring normal balance of life forces by inserting very fine needles through the skin to various depths. According to Western theories of acupuncture, the needles cause changes in blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. Some studies indicate that acupuncture helps relieve fibromyalgia symptoms, while others show no benefit. While the studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture for fibromyalgia symptoms are somewhat mixed, most suggest that it may have a beneficial role.
- Counseling. Talking with a counselor or therapist can help strengthen your belief in your abilities and teach you strategies for dealing with stressful situations and managing your emotions.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Self-care is imperative in the management of fibromyalgia.
- Stress management. Develop a plan to avoid or limit overexertion and emotional stress. Allow yourself time each day to relax. That may mean learning how to say no without guilt. But try not to change your routine completely. People who quit work or drop all activity tend to do worse than do those who remain active. Try stress management techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises or meditation.
- Sleep hygiene. Getting good quality sleep is essential because fatigue is one of the main components of fibromyalgia. In addition to setting aside enough time for sleep, practice good sleep habits, such as going to bed and getting up at the same time each day and limiting daytime napping.
- Get active. Initially, exercise may increase your pain. However, doing it gradually and regularly often decreases symptoms. Helpful exercises may include walking, swimming, biking and water aerobics. A physical therapist or personal trainer can help you develop a home exercise program based on your abilities. Stretching, good posture and relaxation exercises also are helpful.
- Yoga and tai chi. These practices combine meditation, slow movements, deep breathing and relaxation. Both have been found to be helpful in controlling fibromyalgia symptoms.
- Pace yourself. Keep your activity on an even level. If you do too much on your good days, you may have more bad days. Moderation is key. Don’t overdo it on your good days, but likewise it means not self-limiting or doing too little on the days when symptoms flare.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Take a look at your diet. You don’t need to be perfect, but aim on eating healthier foods. Do not use tobacco products. Limit your caffeine intake. Find what works for you and is sustainable.
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