If you are one of the 5 million American adults who live with the chronic pain offibromyalgia, you know that some days are worse than others. “On a bad day I have pain all over,” says Orvie Prewitt, a health education specialist and program coordinator for the Kansas City Area Regional Arthritis Center in Missouri, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia seven years ago. “It feels like I have been hit by a truck or like the whole inside of my body is bruised. The pain is relentless and exhausting.” When the aches and pains of fibromyalgia ramp up to that level, use this expert advice to help you cope
Less Stress for Less Pain
“Remember that the pain comes to pass, not to stay,” says Prewitt. “Stressing about pain just makes it worse.” Depression and anxiety do not cause fibromyalgia, but they are common in people with fibromyalgia. Learning to control stress and keeping a positive attitude are important for coping with chronic pain . Prewitt suggests learning muscle relaxation, using guided imagery, or distracting yourself with your favorite music or a good book.
Better Sleep to Decrease Aches and Pains
“Establishing good sleep habits is very important,” says Howard Konowitz, MD, a pain management specialist and anesthesiologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill. “Pain can make sleep difficult, but there may also be brain changes in fibromyalgia that interfere with restful sleep.” About 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia have disordered sleep. Tips for better sleep include getting at least eight hours, keeping a strict sleep schedule, avoiding long daytime naps and caffeine, having a comfortable sleep environment, and taking a warm shower before bed. If you are still struggling, ask your doctor whether a sleep aid might help.
Stretch Your Muscles
“Noncontact exercising with lots of stretching can maximize muscle function and decrease fibromyalgia pain,” says Dr. Konowitz. “You want to get aerobic exercise without bouncing or banging.” Good stretching exercises include yoga and swimming. Prewitt also highly recommends the Arthritis Foundation exercise program for people with fibromyalgia. Ask your doctor to work with you on an exercise program for your needs.
Smart Massage for Fibromyalgia Pain
A deep-tissue massage can be very helpful for fibromyalgia aches and pains, but not just any massage will do. “You really need to find a massage therapist who knows you and has experience with fibromyalgia,” says Prewitt. A bad massage could make your pain worse, so ask your doctor for a recommendation. You can also use some simple techniques at home. Prewitt recommends putting two tennis balls in a sock, placing it between your back and the wall, and leaning on it to roll some relief into your back and shoulders.
Get Help and Support
Accept that there will be times when you need help. Don’t be ashamed to reach out to friends and family — let them know when you are feeling overwhelmed. Set up a support system for managing chores around the house when you go through a pain spike. Also, educate yourself about your rights at work. The Americans with Disabilities Act Web siteis a good place to start. You might also want to consider a support group. The National Fibromyalgia Association has links to help you find one in your area.
An Energy Conservation Plan
Along with aches and pains, fatigue is a major problem for people with fibromyalgia. That means you need to know when to say no. Fatigue from fibromyalgia can be both physical and mental. “A bad day with fibromyalgia can put you into a condition we call ‘fibro fog,’” says Prewitt. “When you have fibro fog, you need to slow down.” Whenever pain ramps up, you should scale back on obligations. “You often can’t do everything you want to do, so you need to pick your spots and do what you can do,” Prewitt adds.
Try Alternative Therapies
Although there are medications approved for fibromyalgia, many people with fibromyalgia pain find relief from nonmedical treatments. In fact, 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia try some type of alternative treatment — acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation, and tai chi may help. “People with fibromyalgia are also vulnerable to alternative treatments that do not work, so you need to be careful,” Prewitt says. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” She recommends the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site as a good resource for investigating alternative treatments when you want a new approach to dealing with pain.
“One of the best ways to cope with fibromyalgia pain is to learn as much as you can about the disease so that you can have enough accurate information to make informed decisions about your treatment,” says Konowitz. The best fibromyalgia team includes doctors, therapists, and a well-educated patient — you. You’ll feel more in control and better able to manage a bad day when you know everything you can about fibromyalgia