Fibromyalgia Treatment Options

Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal pain condition that presents often with fatigue as well as mood, sleep and memory problems. An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia with 75 to 90 percent of these being female. There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are ways to manage this condition so that symptoms are minimized.

A Brief Introduction to Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is classified as an arthritic condition that was first formally recognized more than 110 years ago. Over the interim, fibromyalgia has been redefined many times. Perhaps the most important occurred in the 1980s when medical authorities added severe pain and tender points as symptoms. Early in the 21st century, fibromyalgia was redefined to include cognitive issues relating to emotions and memory.

This musculoskeletal pain condition is the most common in the world, affecting from 3 to 6 percent of the entire global population. The cause of fibromyalgia is not known, but prevailing opinion is that there is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The primary mechanism of fibromyalgia appears to be a central nervous system dysfunction in which sensations are misinterpreted as painful stimuli.

People with the following characteristics are at higher risk for fibromyalgia:

  • Female
  • Suffer from another painful health condition
  • Suffer from a mood disorder
  • Have experienced physical or emotional trauma
  • Lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • Have family members with fibromyalgia

The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia include

  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Tender points
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety or depression

There is no definitive diagnostic test for fibromyalgia, so it may take a specialist like a rheumatologist to properly diagnose this condition. Because fibromyalgia may appear like many other common pain conditions like tendinitis, lupus or various forms of arthritis, your doctor will likely perform a number of tests that will help rule out similar conditions.

Managing Your Fibromyalgia

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, so managing this condition usually means mitigating symptoms.  That is why your physician is likely to prescribe a cocktail of medications that may include pain relievers, sleep aids, antidepressants and muscle relaxants.

Your first concern is probably your pain symptoms which may appear in the form of muscle pain, neck or back pain, or chronic headaches. In order to relieve pain, your doctor may prescribe Cymbalta, Savella or Lyrica which are pain relievers especially developed for fibromyalgia pain. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or Advil. It is unlikely that your doctor will prescribe risky pain relievers like opioids because opioids are rarely effective for fibromyalgia pain.

Another important way to manage fibromyalgia pain is regular exercise. Yoga, tai chi, and even walking can produce many health benefits that can ease pain symptoms. First of all, moderate exercise will boost endorphin production which naturally fight pain and elevate mood. Secondly, exercise should improve endurance and strengthen muscles which should raise your tolerance for pain. Finally, physical activity should also improve your sleep quality which is essential for symptom relief.

If you are still having ongoing pain symptoms, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. Physical therapy offers a variety of important benefits including self-care education, improved strength and greater range of motion. Physical therapy should help you get the most out of your own exercise regime.

It is important to eat a healthy diet so that you can minimize pain and fatigue. One key component should be vitamin D, which many fibromyalgia patients seem to have in lower quantities. You may want to include 3 to 7 alcoholic drinks a week—preferably not all in one sitting. You should also avoid too much caffeine which can aggravate pain symptoms.

Additional Therapies for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that affects both your body as well as your mind which is why you should monitor your emotional states. Emotions like anxiety and depression are common among fibromyalgia patients but they can detriment your progress if not properly managed.  Most patients will respond positively to antidepressants, but others may find that alternative therapies are more effective.

Mindful meditation may be a solution for some fibromyalgia patients. This form of meditation emphasizes cognitive awareness of your mind and body. Long-time practitioners of mindfulness attest that they can reduce pain symptoms by almost 90 percent.

If you are looking for something a bit more clinical, you may want to try cognitive behavioral therapy or biofeedback which can improve pain by teaching you to control your pain responses. Most patients with chronic pain will fall into the habit of catastrophizing pain episodes which, in turn, will increase stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy will impart ways to manage this anxiety which can actually make pain feel worse.

Many fibromyalgia patients have found that massage therapy is effective at relieving pain and boosting mood.  Manipulation of stiff, tense muscles will help you relax and reduce stress by increasing endorphin production.

A low-risk alternative therapy that more fibromyalgia patients are trying is acupuncture. This centuries’ old practice of inserting thin needles into key locations on the body may boost blood flow, healing and endorphin production.  It may not work for every fibromyalgia sufferer, but it has proven successful enough that you should at least discuss the possibility with your doctor.

Finally, you may want to reexamine how you live your life so that you can modify or eliminate problem areas that are exacerbating your fibromyalgia symptoms. One of the biggest problems for many fibromyalgia sufferers is too much stress.  Investigate and identify the biggest stress inducers in your life and try to find ways to minimize them. If you find your job is a big cause of stress, you may want to take a smaller professional role or change careers altogether. Similarly, if people are causing your anxiety, do your best to minimize your interactions.

If you are having difficulty sleeping, discuss your options with your physician.  You may only need to exercise more regularly or take a sleeping pill, but if your sleep issues persist, you may have to seek care from a sleep specialist.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.