Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by chronic pain and tenderness. People who have fibromyalgia have pain or tender points in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs, as well as in other parts of the body.
Many experts believe that a miscommunication between the body and the brain causes this pain. In people with fibromyalgia, brain chemicals read neutral sensations as stronger than they are, causing a sensation of pain where there shouldn’t be one. Pain receptors in the brain then become overly sensitive, overreacting to nerve or pain sensations repeatedly.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but symptoms may begin after surgery, infection, or other physical trauma. Other people develop symptoms after psychological trauma. Not all people with fibromyalgia can pinpoint the event or situation that triggers the symptoms.
Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia. It also is known to run in families, or have a genetic component.
The primary symptom of fibromyalgia includes generalized pain and tenderness. This chronic dull ache can last for months and occurs throughout the body. Other symptoms include mood disorders, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and headaches.
While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, it is possible to control symptoms and live a relatively normal life. The goal will be to manage pain and adopt lifestyle changes to reduce the severity of symptoms. While fibromyalgia may be chronic and last a lifetime, it is not progressive, so symptoms generally do not worsen. For many people, symptoms improve over time.
Treatment for fibromyalgia is highly individualized; no single technique works for everyone. Most people do best with a complete treatment plan including medication, self-care, and alternative therapies to reduce pain, promote restful sleep, and minimize other symptoms.
Discuss over-the-counter medications with your healthcare provider; he or she may have recommendations. Use prescription drugs as prescribed. Physical therapy treatment may also be prescribed.
- over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve)
- prescription pain relievers like tramadol (Ultram or Conzip)
- antidepressants like duloxetine (Cymbalta), amitriptyline (Elavil), fluoxetine (Prozac), cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), venlafaxine (Effexor), and milnacipran (Savella) for pain, fatigue, and sleep problems
- anti-seizure medication like gabapentin (Neurontin or Gralise) or pregabalin (Lyrica) to reduce pain
Always discuss dietary changes, new exercise regimens, and supplements with your doctor or healthcare provider.
- exercise such as walking, swimming, biking, and light aerobics
- hot or cold packs
- practicing good posture
- practicing moderation in your energy output
- avoiding caffeine
- avoiding alcohol
- attempting to get enough sleep (but limiting naps)
- going to bed and get up at the same time every day to build routine
- daily relaxation techniques
- managing physical and emotional stress
- limiting overexertion
- therapy to learn to cope and deal with stress
- stress management activities like yoga, deep breathing, and meditation
- nutritional supplements
- eating a healthy diet
While the efficacy of many alternative treatments has not been proven, some patients do report benefits. Discuss options for your treatment with your doctor. Some alternative treatments include:
- osteopathic manipulation
- yoga (especially restorative, yin, or gentle yoga)
- massage therapy (to relax the muscles and relieve stress)
- tai chi
- myofascial release therapy
- herbal medicine
- Pilates or Feldenkrais method programs