The Ultimate Guide to Fibromyalgia Pain Relief
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease, typically characterized by widespread pain in the body.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) estimates that more than 5 million people across the US alone suffer from the condition, with 80-90% of them being female (although males can suffer from fibromyalgia too).
In this article we’ll look closely at the possible causes of fibromyalgia, the common symptoms, and the potential treatment options available to you.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Also known fibromyalgia syndrome or simply FMS, fibromyalgia is commonly defined as “a rheumatic condition characterized by muscular or musculoskeletal pain with stiffness and localized tenderness at specific points on the body.”
As the guys at WebMD point out, the pain can vary in intensity, duration and position on the body, “Specific trigger points or tender points on the body may be painful to touch. You may experience swelling, disturbances in deep-level or restful sleep, and mood disturbances or depression. Your muscles may feel like they have been overworked or pulled. They’ll feel that way even without exercise or another cause. Sometimes, your muscles twitch, burn, or have deep stabbing pain. Some patients with FMS have pain and achiness around the joints in the neck, shoulder, back, and hips”.
According to the NHS, the widespread pain may also be accompanied by a number of other unwanted symptoms, including:
- Significantly increased sensitivity to pain.
- Chronic fatigue (extreme tiredness).
- Difficulty getting to sleep and maintaining sleep.
- Problems with cognition and mental processes (sometimes referred to as “fibro-fog”). This might also include problems with memory and concentration, and in some cases headaches.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a digestive condition that typically causes stomach pain and bloating.
Other possible symptoms in include painful menstrual cramps, poor circulation in the hands and feet, restless legs, numbness and tingling, dry mouth, and even increased anxiety and depression.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
As of yet, there is no known cause of fibromyalgia, making it quite a difficult disease to manage effectively.
There are some speculations however, that the disease may occur due to a combination of lifestyle factors and genetic predispositions.
The Arthritis Research site states that, “We don’t yet know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, but research suggests that there’s an interaction between physical, neurological and psychological factors. The pain we feel is often affected by our emotions and moods – depression or anxiety can make the pain seem worse. At the same time, being in pain can lead to stress, worry or low mood”.
Over time, as this vicious cycle of pain – stress – pain – stress continues, it is thought that the body adapts in some way, with the nervous system changing the way that it processes pain.
How Can Fibromyalgia be Treated?
Just like there is no known cause, there is currently no known cure for fibromyalgia, but there are a number of treatment options available that can ease some of the symptoms and improve quality of life.
1. Seek Professional Help
As fibromyalgia can present a wide range of symptoms, no one treatment option will be right for everyone, hence it is important to work with a medical professional to explore your options and determine the best course of action for you.
In terms of detecting the condition, there are no specific tests designed to diagnose fibromyalgia, but GP’s will typically carry out a thorough physical examination (including blood tests), also considering your previous medical history and current symptoms.
If fibromyalgia is suspected, you will likely be referred by your GP to a rheumatologist, neurologist or even a psychologist – depending on your range of symptoms.
The specialists will then help you determine the best course of action, which may include a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.
2. Painkillers and NSAID’s
The number one symptom of fibromyalgia is pain, hence the main medications prescribed are aimed at reducing pain.
- Over the counter painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
- If pain is severe, stronger painkillers such as tramadol and codeine may also be prescribed.
Although painkillers may help to reduce levels pain in some people, they are not always reliable, and they can also come with a wide range of side effects.
Strong painkillers like tramadol and codeine have been shown to be habit forming, meaning that you may experience withdrawal symptoms after you stop taking them.
Some of the most common side effects of these drugs include but are not limited to: Abdominal or stomach pain, agitation, anxiety, constipation, cough, diarrhea, discouragement, drowsiness, dry mouth, feeling of warmth, feeling sad or empty, feeling unusually cold, fever, general feeling of discomfort or illness, headache, heartburn, irritability, itching of the skin, and even joint pain…
The list of side effects goes on and on, and you’ll notice that many of them look pretty similar to the symptoms of fibromyalgia – the very condition that they’re supposed to be treating!
Even the milder painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and paracetamol don’t come without their downsides.
Thankfully, prescription drugs are not the only option available with regards to pain management. There are a number of natural alternatives that you can look towards to supplement or replace traditional treatments (under the careful watch of a trained professional).
Peppermint is regarded as a powerful pain reliever, and may also help ease symptoms of IBS that often accompany fibromyalgia.
Some of the best-known natural painkillers include:
- Peppermint – taken orally or applied topically as an essential oil, peppermint is regarded as a powerful pain reliever, and may also help ease symptoms of IBS that often accompany fibromyalgia.
- Turmeric – the yellow Indian spice is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory substances known to man. The main component curcumin has been shown to be as powerful as NSAIDs in reducing inflammation, without any known side effects.
- Liquorice – the root has long been used to combat inflammation and soothe the pain associated with it. It contains a range of natural anaesthetic and analgesic compounds.
- Ginger – like its close relative turmeric, research suggests that ginger may rival non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications when it comes to reducing levels of pain and bringing down chronic inflammation.
- Aloe Vera – used in herbal medicine for thousands of years to help treat a range of illnesses and ailments, due to its soothing qualities.
- White Willow Bark – the bark is sometimes referred to as “Nature’s aspirin” due to its natural pain relieving properties. It contains the compound salicin, which reduces the body’s levels of prostaglandins – compounds that can cause pain and inflammation.
- Valerian Root – has been used for centuries to relieve pain, improve sleep, regulate the nervous system, and as a way to relieve tension, irritability, stress, and anxiety.
- Acupuncture – as the guys at the Mayo Clinic point out, whilst studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture for fibromyalgia symptoms are somewhat mixed, most suggest that it may have a beneficial role.
As mentioned earlier on in the article, as well as chronic pain, other common symptoms of fibromyalgia included anxiety and depression.
Some doctors prescribe anti-depressants as a way to combat this, because the drugs may also help to relive pain at the same time.
Some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants used to treat fibromyalgia include: amitriptyline, milnacipran and paroxetine.
Although the medications may help to keep pain and depression under control, they also come with their side effects, including nausea, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, burred vision, and a whole host of other potential issues.
There is also evidence to suggest that many of the top medications prescribed for depression perform no better than placebos when put to the test.
Again, there are a number of natural substances that can act in a similar way to these medications, without the side effects. Some of these include:
- St John’s Wort – research suggests that the herb reduces depression by inhibiting reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. It is available in supplement form from most supermarkets and health food shops.
- 5HTP – a precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP helps to improve mood and can also enhance sleep quality.
- B-Vitamins – these play an important role in the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
As always, it is important to consult your doctor before taking any of these supplements or adding these foods to your diet, as they may interact with certain prescription medications.
4. Lifestyle Changes
As well as using specific treatments, medications or supplements to help deal with the symptoms of fibromyalgia and to reduce pain, there are also a number of lifestyle changes that you can make to improve things further.
Read Next: The Five Main Symptoms Of Body Inflammation
One of the most effective of which is to introduce some form of regular exercise into your life.
Things like walking, yoga, strength training, and calisthenics can provide a wide range of benefits, including:
- Building up bone density, and improving muscular strength and endurance.
- Reducing stress levels which can improve your mood and reduce the perceived levels of pain.
- Improving your body composition – placing less strain on your joints.
It’s important to listen to your body and not to push things too hard too soon.
Overtraining can leave the body in an inflamed state, which will only cause more pain and anxiety. So just like with any other healthy habit: take things slowly and build gradually.
As well as including exercise into your regime, you can also employ a number of stress management techniques to help you deal with pain and anxiety.
Some of the most effective include:
- Regular meditation – either on your own, with a group, or via guided meditation site.
- Specific breathing exercises aimed at reducing stress, such as alternative nostril breathing or box breathing.
- Monitoring your heart rate variability (HRV) and adjusting your activity levels accordingly.
5. Get a Support Network
As well as exploring the above treatment options and lifestyle changes, sometimes just being able to connect with people in a similar situation to you can be beneficial.
As listed on the NHS website, there are a number of support groups and communities available for fibromyalgia sufferers:
- You can visit UK Fibromyalgia’s support group section for a list of fibromyalgia support groups across the country.
- Fibromyalgia Action UK is a charity that offers information and support to anyone who has fibromyalgia. It has a telephone service (0844 887 2444) that you can call with any questions about the condition. It also has a network of local support groups you may find helpful.
- There is also an online community where you can find out about news, events and ongoing research.
What treatment options have you used to help you deal with fibromyalgia? Are there any you would add to the list?