This is an introduction to a whole category on the website discussing fibromyalgia treatments – in other words, things people with fibro are doing to feel better. In the future, we’re going to be looking at the pros and cons of these treatments based on the experiences of people who have already tried them. This post is going to be a high-level overview of the main categories of treatment.
Since there is no cure for fibro, it’s something that you must live with and manage in order to minimize its symptoms. However, the good news is that there are many treatments you can take advantage of to making living with the condition a lot more tolerable.
We are going to discuss medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes. The primary goal of all of these is to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as your “rest-and-digest” system. This calms the hyperactive stress response of the sympathetic nervous system that seems to be the underlying cause of nearly all fibro symptoms. Let’s break these down one by one.
First, medications. There are no medications that have been specifically developed to address fibro symptoms, but some more generalized drugs can really help, even if just to get through the worst flare-ups.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve. These can help dampen the pain to the point where it can be easier to sleep through the night or work a full day. If the pain is more intense, your doctor might prescribe a more potent pain reliever, possibly even opioids.
Antidepressants can not only help with your mental state, but can ease the pain, fatigue, and sleep difficulties as well. These are only available by prescription.
Finally, anti-seizure drugs are medications originally designed to treat epilepsy but have been found to help with fibromyalgia also. Lyrica is the most prominent of these medications and was actually the first prescription approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
All right, let’s move on to therapies. What we mean by this is professional help given by specialists on an ongoing basis. These can range from what we in the West consider more mainstream to alternative therapies often coming from Eastern cultures.
With physical therapy, you will learn exercises that improve your strength, flexibility, and stamina – areas that need dedicated reinforcement for those with fibromyalgia.
Massage therapy, especially myofascial release, has numerous benefits. It can reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, and improve the range of motion in your joints. Stress and anxiety are often reduced after massages.
Traditional Chinese medicine, one of the most well-known practices being acupuncture, aims to restore the natural balance of life forces. In acupuncture, very fine needles are inserted through the skin. It is thought that these needles cause changes in blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord.
By no means is the pain of fibromyalgia purely physical. Physical pain can lead to mental distress and vice versa. That’s why it can be helpful to have someone to talk to who can work with you to help manage your symptoms.
Counseling or psychotherapy can help strengthen your belief in your abilities and teach you strategies for dealing with stressful situations.
Finally, we have lifestyle changes. As difficult as it may be, you need to get enough sleep. It helps keep the fatigue in check and the lack of deep, restorative sleep has cascading effects on everything throughout the day. It helps to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to establish a routine.
It’s important to minimize stress in your life as much as possible. You have to allow yourself time to rest and relax every day, even if that means saying no to certain invitations. It’s best to manage your stress though than to eliminate it altogether; those who quit work or drop all activity completely tend to do worse overall.
Next is diet. Eating is something we all do, but deciding what you want in your diet is a very personal thing. There are lots of diets floating around these days, but there are some basic things that are widely in agreement, such as limiting your intake of sugar and caffeine.
Then we have exercise. This is another thing that is exceptionally difficult for us fibro folks, but despite the short-term pain, the long-term health benefits are undeniable. Look for activities that are more manageable, like walking, swimming, biking, and yoga.
Finally, meditation has been shown to be extremely beneficial. Controlling your breath activates the rest-and-digest nervous system response and calms the fight-or-flight response. Beyond just sitting in stillness, this includes meditative activities like gardening and knitting. Their repetition also elicits a relaxation response.
We have just scratched the surface of the possible treatments that are out there to manage fibromyalgia pain. What works for some might not work for others, but as I said earlier we at Fibro Pulse are going to be making specific posts for all of these different treatments, so hopefully you can find something that works for you.
Have you tried any of these fibromyalgia treatments yourself? Which have you found to be the most useful? Which treatments would you like us to cover in future posts? Please share your answers in the comments section below!
• The Fibro Manual by Dr. Ginevra Liptain (2016) http://www.drliptan.com/book/