When Jane first walked into my clinic she was in severe pain, she was depressed and most of all she was defeated. After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia at the age of 47 Jane has spent the last 3 years in and out of doctor’s appointments, seeing various specialists and undergoing a countless number of investigations looking for answers. She grew tired of pumping her body with increasing dosages of pain medications and as a last resort turned to Google to search natural cures for fibromyalgia. To her surprise, she found a whole slew of information on different treatment options available and lifestyle changes she could make to help her deal with the constant pain. At that point, she called me to book an appointment. She figured she had nothing to lose…
As of 2013, 1 million Canadians are afflicted with fibromyalgia and there is currently no cure. Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) derives its name from the Latin and Greek terms fibro meaning “fibrous tissue”, myo meaning “muscle” and algo meaning “pain” – literally translating to “muscle and connective tissue pain.” Although widespread muscle pain is one of the distinguishing characteristics of FMS those diagnosed will also suffer from chronic fatigue, poor sleep, poor memory and mood disorders. Individuals diagnosed with FMS also tend to have headaches, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety, depression and endometriosis. As you can see, the effects of FMS are far more deeply rooted than mere physical pain and impinge on a person’s complete physical, mental and emotional health. As a result, a lot of sufferers are unable to work, avoid social situations and have difficulty tending to the needs of their families. Simple tasks such as washing the dishes or combing one’s hair instantly become a grueling hardship. Living with fibromyalgia can significantly reduce the quality of one’s life.
Fortunately, fibromyalgia sufferers need not lose hope. New studies are emerging daily on how more diverse treatment strategies focusing on an overall approach to care are more effective than the current conventional approach of simply managing the pain with medications. People diagnosed with fibromyalgia will no longer be told to “just live with it,” but instead be instructed on how to make lifestyle changes that will significantly improve their condition. Because FMS affects a person’s health on many different levels a more complete approach to care is proving to be more beneficial. Current treatment focuses on symptom management with medications – usually analgesics (painkillers) or anti-depressants. However, combined care is quickly becoming the treatment of choice. The Canadian Pain Society 2012 Fibromyalgia Guidelines indicate that “global care” provides the best results to patients. This means, treating the patient’s complete well-being, not just managing the symptoms.
So, you or someone you know has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. What’s next? Self-care is critical. Patient education and a heightened awareness/understanding of one’s body will make a huge difference in the treatment outcome and patient’s response to treatment. Here are 5 tips that you can do to help manage FMS:
- Reduce stress – breathing and meditation are the best ways to reduce stress in your life. Both activities are simple, require no equipment and can be performed anywhere. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie flat on your back, close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath. Feel your lungs expand and fill with air as you slowly inhale through your nose. Now, exhale through your nose and feel your lungs empty. Count this as one. Repeat deep breathing and count on each exhalation. See what number you reach. If you lose track start back at zero.
- Sleep – this means getting sufficient hours and maintaining good sleep habits. The National Institutes of Health indicate that adults need 7.5-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to function at their best. Since people with FMS tend to have difficulty sleeping it is suggested they take naps throughout the day to fill the gap. Examples of good sleep habits are: sleeping in complete darkness (no TV, block out lights from windows or use a sleep mask), avoiding bright lights and stimulation before bed (use low-wattage bulbs, avoid reading cell phones or iPads), keeping your room cool (most people sleep best in a slightly cooler room around 18 degrees Celsius) and going to bed at the same time every night (also try waking up at the same time every morning, even on weekends).
- Exercise – regular exercise will help to decrease pain, but also give you the added benefit of elevating your mood. Exercise causes a release of Endorphins, your body’s natural “feel good” hormone. People with FMS may notice a temporary aggravation of pain when they first start exercising, but continuing with a routine will result in decreased pain in the long run. The best exercises for people with FMS are: walking, swimming, biking, yoga, pilates or Tai Chi.
- Moderation – pace yourself. If you are having a good day, don’t over do it and if you’re having a bad day you may need to give yourself an added push to force yourself to get out of bed in the morning. Listen to your body. You know you body better than anyone else.
- Healthy Lifestyle – this includes avoiding caffeine and alcohol, following a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy body weight. It is important to seek the advice of a trained nutritionist or dietician before starting any kind of diet. A professional will help to create a meal plan that is catered to your individualized needs. Not only will your fibromyalgia improve, but you’ll also benefit from disease prevention (heart disease, diabetes, managing cholesterol levels and blood pressure).
Use of alternative (or complimentary) medicines is on the rise and showing a lot of promise. People with FMS can also try Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Massage Therapy, Physiotherapy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy or Counseling Therapy (psychology or psychotherapy). The benefit of seeking care from any of the above practitioners is that you will be sure to receive individualized attention and be given a treatment plan that is specific to you and your needs rather than a generic, “blanket” treatment. Like Jane, the patient you met at the beginning of this article, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how much your quality of life will improve when you start taking responsibility for your health and seeking treatments that address your complete health and wellbeing.
(Originally published in Whatever Vaughan Magazine, 2013)