Fibromyalgia is a condition in which your body “hurts all over”, leaving you tired and exhausted. It is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and stiffness.
Fibromyalgia tends to be more common in women, and the exact cause is unknown. It can be difficult to diagnose since there is no specific test for it, but it’s usually detected by performing various tests (including neurological tests) to rule out other diseases. Some symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Pain in “tender points” including muscles, tendons, or joints on both sides of the body
- Sleep disturbances
- Fatigue due to lack of deep sleep
- Mental and/or emotional disturbances
- Headaches, dizziness, tingling, and abdominal pain.
The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the weather, stress, physical activity, or even the time of day.
Although it’s not a progressive condition, it can lead to other conditions including depression, sleep deprivation, restless leg syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.
It is believed that people with fibromyalgia have a lower threshold for pain because of increased sensitivity to pain “messages” in the brain. This means that the brain’s pain receptors become more sensitive to pain signals.
What Puts You At Risk?
- Gender. Women are more at risk than men.
- Age. Over 80% of those diagnosed are between 35 and 55 years of age.
- Disturbed sleep patterns. It’s unclear whether sleeping difficulties are a cause or a result of fibromyalgia.
- People with sleep disorders (like nighttime muscle spasms in the legs, restless legs syndrome, or sleep apnea) often have fibromyalgia.
- Family history. If a family member has this condition, your risk of developing it is greater.
- Rheumatic disease. If you have a rheumatic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia.
Even though fibromyalgia isn’t progressive, it can lead to depression and lack of sleep. These problems can also interfere with the ability to function in your personal and professional life.
If your doctor diagnoses you with fibromyalgia, he/she is likely to prescribe medications including pain medicine, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs.
Physical therapy is critical in the management of fibromyalgia.
Although there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, physical therapy has been shown to help ease symptoms of pain, fatigue, and stiffness. The most effective approach includes a combination of:
- Patient education – this is the first, most important step
- Stress management
- Avoid or limit emotional stress.
- Take time to relax each day.
- Stay active. Regular activity helps decrease stress.
- Deep-breathing exercises or meditation are always helpful.
- Consistent sleep patterns
- Get enough sleep to avoid fatigue (one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia).
- Try to avoid anything with caffeine (coffee, chocolate, and caffeinated drinks) at least 4 hours prior to bedtime. It will help you sleep better.
- Exercise regularly
- Slow, progressive exercise helps fight the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Low-impact aerobic exercises like swimming, cycling, and walking can be effective, but it’s best to consult a physical therapist before you start exercising.
- Stretching and maintaining good posture will also help. Ask your therapist to find out what exercises will work best for you.
- Know your limits and stay within them.
If you suspect or have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, we can help. Talk to your physical therapist to see how you can control your symptoms and return to the activities you enjoy.