If you have fibromyalgia, you might be familiar with the symptoms. Pain, fatigue, anxiety, and trouble sleeping - a potent combination of problems that will severely affect your ability to enjoy life. In the search for fibromyalgia pain relief, you might be tempted to look for quick and easy solutions so you can get back to doing the activities you enjoy. However, when it comes to chronic pain, quick and easy solutions are hard to find. Chronic issues that last longer than three months usually require a more comprehensive approach wherein you change all of the aspects of your lifestyle that may be negatively affecting your health. Examples include an unhealthy diet full of processed foods, or a sedentary lifestyle where you spend all day staring at a computer screen. If you truly want to find relief from fibromyalgia pain, you need to start by finding your bad habits and replacing them with good ones. One important aspect of fibromyalgia pain relief is regular self-care. Keep reading to learn more about how self-care can benefit those with fibromyalgia including several self-care strategies you can try to relieve pain and fatigue.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes musculoskeletal pain throughout the body. Symptoms generally include pain, stiffness, and fatigue, as well as poor sleep, memory, and mood. People with fibromyalgia have a heightened perception of pain, causing allodynia and hyperalgesia. Allodynia makes sensations that are not normally painful unpleasant and hyperalgesia creates an increased response to painful sensations. Their heightened perception of pain is caused by a malfunctioning central nervous system. The neurotransmitters that trigger pain are more abundant and the ones that inhibit pain are fewer. Fibromyalgia can be caused by traumatic events, repetitive injuries, certain diseases, or imbalanced neurotransmitters. A few reasons why your neurotransmitters might go out of balance are genetics, chemicals, and nutritional deficiencies. Originally, fibromyalgia was treated as a psychiatric condition - but is now considered a physical disorder. Treatments for fibromyalgia include a combination of conventional medications - like anti-depressants and pain relievers - alongside targeted self-care strategies.
Why Self-Care for Fibromyalgia
Self-care is the act of putting yourself first. Regular self-care means waking up each day and engaging in an activity that brings your joy. When you prioritize self-care, you are not only improving your relationship with yourself but making it so that you can show up better for others. For people with chronic pain, practicing self-care is crucial. Pain makes everything more difficult - from the necessary chores like doing laundry and mowing the lawn to the more enjoyable activities like socializing. Only you can find your limits and find strategies to make yourself feel better. When you ignore chronic pain, you might end up modifying your behavior without even realizing it. You might stop walking your dog because it hurts your legs or avoid your favorite spin class because you need several days to recover. Over time, these bad habits may create other health issues like obesity or unhealthy eating habits that worsen your health even more. By practicing self-care and increasing awareness of your body, you keep your condition from worsening while remaining conscious of how it's affecting your life. You can introduce new hobbies to take place of the old ones that no longer work for your body. And you actively take care of your mental health to prevent depression or anxiety from derailing your life.
Seven Self-Care for Fibromyalgia Pain and Fatigue
Many treatments for chronic conditions like fibromyalgia neglect self-care. Self-care is the patient's ability to recognize their limits, engage in activities that bring them joy, and avoid activities that harm their body. Without self-care, fibromyalgia pain and fatigue might worsen, preventing you from living your life the way you want to live it. These seven self-care strategies are designed to help with fibromyalgia pain relief.
1. Go to a Yoga Class
Yoga connects the mind and the body using movement, a focused mind, and breathwork. Because of yoga’s gentle, flowing movements, this practice is safe even for people with mild or moderate pain from fibromyalgia. The benefits of yoga include increased strength and balance, improved heart health, less stress, better concentration, and straighter posture. Practicing yoga with fibromyalgia is also beneficial for its psychological benefits. It reduces the severity of depression symptoms, a disorder often found in patients with chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia. By focusing their minds, yogis may also be able to change their perception of pain. While many experts are still waiting for more comprehensive studies on the benefits of yoga for fibromyalgia, the existing evidence suggests that this mind-body practice is a useful form of self-care for anyone with chronic pain.
2. Start Meditating
The prevalence of mental health issues in people with fibromyalgia makes mindfulness meditation a crucial part of any self-care routine. Mindfulness meditation brings your mind to the current moment and asks that you observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. People with chronic pain often dwell on their current pain levels or develop anxiety about the pain they will feel in the future. Mindfulness meditation helps focus your mind on happier thoughts. It drags your mind out of the thought loop that exacerbates chronic pain and helps you think about something else. At the same time, it reduces stress and promotes relaxation to release tension in muscles that may be exacerbating your pain. Chronic pain conditions can cause people to lose confidence in their bodies. Practices like yoga and meditation also heighten body awareness which helps you reevaluate your relationship with your body. It also helps you choose when you need to start engaging in more active self-care.
3. Adjust Your Sleep Habits
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia, often the result of poor sleep habits. Pain and sleep have a symbiotic relationship. Chronic pain might disrupt your sleep schedule the same way poor sleep habits might cause or exacerbate pain. People with fibromyalgia have a difficult time reaching restorative sleep stages. They are wakeful during the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages which results in less slow-wave sleep. The lack of restful sleep makes the body more reactive to pain signals. Restless leg syndrome is another common sleep trouble for those with fibromyalgia. RLS is a sensory disorder that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs that make it impossible to get comfortable as you are falling asleep. Healthy sleep habits can reduce pain and fatigue in people with fibromyalgia. A few ways to improve your sleep are going to bed and waking up at the same time, exercising during the deal, turning off electronics a few hours before you go to sleep, and avoiding large meals late in the evening.
4. Experiment with Heat Therapy
Heat therapy is a well-known remedy for stiff and sore muscles resulting from exercise or overexertion. But heat is also an effective treatment for people with chronic fibromyalgia pain. It works by increasing circulation in the area where it’s applied, thus boosting oxygen and nutrient supplies. Heat also stimulates sensory receptors in the skin and blocks pain signals to the brain. The warmth relaxes tight muscles and reduces muscle spasms. It also heats the synovial fluid in the joints so movement is easier. Moist heat is generally recommended when it comes to heat therapy. It penetrates the skin faster and deeper, targeting sore muscles better than dry heat. Try a moist heat pack, hot bath, or steamed towels for more healing heat benefits.
5. Get a Massage
Experts are still trying to understand the mechanics behind the central nervous system malfunctions that characterize fibromyalgia. One of the more unique symptoms that make fibromyalgia so difficult to treat is that pain isn’t the only sensation that is exaggerated. People with fibromyalgia might also be hypersensitive to light, sound, temperature, touch, food, and even topical beauty products. For this reason, massage therapy may or may not be an effective self-care strategy for those with fibromyalgia. Those who choose to use massage for self-care should be prepared to ask for lighter pressure and communicate when any part of the treatment is too much. The benefits of massage include increased circulation of blood and lymph fluid, better sleep, and reduced stress and anxiety. More studies are needed to prove massage therapy’s effectiveness in treating fibromyalgia, but a few preliminary studies have shown that massage reduces pain sensitivity from fibromyalgia. Myofascial release techniques, in particular, have proven to be an effective way to reduce pain and improve quality of life.
6. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a self-care therapy many people use to manage chronic pain. This ancient practice uses thin needles to activate certain points to bring balance to the body. These points fall along the meridian lines, certain pathways that are thought to contain a person’s life energy or qi. The meridians are not a measurable system using current technology and so acupuncture’s usefulness is still a subject of much debate. Several studies have looked at acupuncture as a treatment for fibromyalgia and found it to be a safe and effective treatment. When compared with traditional medications, acupuncture was more effective both in the short and long term. Acupuncture works by simultaneously stimulating the body’s natural pain relief systems, reducing inflammation, and relieving stress. Most acupuncturists recommend regular treatments for pain relief from conditions like fibromyalgia.
7. Join a Support Group
Chronic pain conditions are notorious for disrupting the quality of a person’s life. One of the ways pain might affect you is by making it more difficult for you to socialize. However, support from friends, family, and other loved ones is vital for those living with chronic pain. Socializing doesn’t only benefit you by making you feel good, it’s also good for your health. Studies show that people who actively socialize live longer, have fewer diseases, and are generally happier than those who self-isolate. Your friends and family might also be a useful source of inspiration and motivation when it comes to self-care. If you are struggling to relate or connect to your normal social group because of your fibromyalgia, you might consider joining a support group. These groups are designed to give you resources and support to make living with fibromyalgia easier.
When to See a Doctor for Fibromyalgia
Many people with fibromyalgia are undiagnosed, a disproportionate amount of whom are men. About 2% of the United States population - around 4 million adults - are currently dealing with fibromyalgia. Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult since the symptoms often mimic those of other diseases. Pain and fatigue are the most common symptoms. The pain is generally widespread, on both sides of the body and running from head to foot. Doctors also use 18 tender points to determine if a patient has fibromyalgia - those who feel pain in more than 11 out of 18 are more likely to be diagnosed. Any unusual or long-lasting pain could be due to fibromyalgia. Therefore, people who suffer from sudden whole body pain or pain that has lasted longer than three months should see their doctor to determine the cause. People with fibromyalgia typically have symptoms for the rest of their lives. However, by engaging in regular self-care, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and finding pain management techniques that work for you, you can mitigate the symptoms and retain your quality of life.
Think About the Future
The self-care strategies listed above work best when paired with other healthy lifestyle habits like eating a healthy, low-inflammatory diet and regular exercise. They are also more effective when used proactively - instead of in response to pain. Fibromyalgia pain relief requires a conscious effort on your part. You need to engage in regular self-care to manage your current pain levels and prevent them from disrupting your life in the future. Try adding a few strategies at a time and see how your body responds. Remember that healing is a journey, and results don’t often appear overnight. Be patient with your body and yourself as you set off on your healing voyage.