We know that fibromyalgia is a condition with widespread pain and multiple other symptoms. Even though there are medications that help relieve symptoms, an equally important aspect of treatment is self-care and effectively managing day-to-day activities. Learning these tools gives patients some control over their disease and they can be an effective part of their own treatment and wellness.
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Reduce painful stimuli
Since fibromyalgia is a condition of feeling pain and discomfort more easily than others, patients should reduce their exposure to things that could cause pain or discomfort. They should also avoid sensory overload. Fibromyalgia patients can be sensitive to loud noises or bright, flashing lights that could trigger headaches. Limiting time in large crowds may also help prevent headaches or stress.
Additionally, some patients find that excessive heat or cold can be a trigger to their physical symptoms. Therefore, they should avoid saunas or make sure they are dressed appropriately for the weather. If a patient’s symptoms include dizziness, they should slow down when changing positions of the body. If they have neck or back pain, which is extremely common in fibromyalgia, they would want to minimize overhead reaching or lifting heavy things.
Since patients with fibromyalgia have a limited amount of energy every day, they should pace their activities and exercise. They have to be careful to not use up all of their energy too quickly as this can get depleted and experience severe fatigue the rest of the day. Thus, it is very important to space out activities and conserve energy for things they want or need to do. For example, normally we would encourage patients to take the stairs instead of an elevator to be active, but for a fibromyalgia patient, they may want to save that energy for exercise or other activities later in the day.
Exercise is a very important aspect of treating fibromyalgia. This includes both aerobic exercise and weight training. Exercise can help with reducing pain, improving mood and other fibromyalgia symptoms if done properly. Some tips to reduce pain while exercising are:
- Limit eccentric motion, which is the motion of an active muscle while it is lengthening under load. An example of an eccentric motion is when someone is slowly lowering a dumbbell while doing bicep curls. Rather than lowering the dumbbell at the same rate in which you lift it, a fibromyalgia patient would shorten the time to lower the weight. For example, they would curl the dumbbell up over a course of 6 seconds, then straighten the arm for only 3 seconds, then rest for another 3 seconds. A good physical therapist or personal trainer may be helpful in this regard.
- While at the gym, use low-numbered weights, avoid expending too much energy and do a variety of weight-bearing activities to strengthen different muscle groups and to not overwork any single part of the body.
- Naps before exercise may be helpful to have adequate energy for a workout.
- Exercising between the hours of 10am and 3pm may be the best time due to increased energy levels.
Adequate, quality sleep is extremely important in fibromyalgia patients. They should practice good sleep hygiene and allow plenty of time to sleep. Good sleep hygiene practices include no caffeine after 2pm, no alcohol, no exercise for several hours before bedtime, no television, internet or other stimulating activities at least one hour before bedtime.
Mood can affect a person’s outlook, energy, sleep, and pain. It is very important that patients with fibromyalgia keep a positive outlook on life and not think the worst about every situation. Some fibromyalgia patients work with a psychologist and undergo cognitive behavioral therapy to increase positive thinking.
There is not a lot of evidence that specific nutrients are helpful in fibromyalgia. A well-balanced diet is recommended, however. Some research says Vitamin D supplementation may be helpful for reducing muscle pain, but since Vitamin D is a vitamin your body stores, you can overdose on it, so appropriate levels should be monitored by your doctor.
Also, some research has indicated that eating MSG (monosodium glutamate) can worsen fibromyalgia symptoms. MSG can be found in a lot of food, including canned soups, Chinese restaurants, frozen dinners, fast foods, seasoning mixes for ramen noodles, beef and chicken broths (unless low sodium). Looking for MSG on food labels, and avoiding it, is recommended.
Good self-care is an essential way to manage fibromyalgia symptoms. It is helpful to have realistic expectations, know your limits, communicate your boundaries, and engage your friends and family to support your lifestyle choices that reduce your symptoms.