How to Soothe Fibromyalgia Pain
What is fibromyalgia?
I've suffered from fibromyalgia for over 12 years and I know how painful and debilitating this condition can be. In order to soothe my own pain, I not only changed my life style a little, but also found out more about the condition in order to understand what I was experiencing. Basically then we're not looking for a cure - there isn't one - but testing and trying a combination of things that can help to relieve the symptoms.Therefore, we'll start by looking at what fibromyalgia is, the indications and what can be done to relieve the pain and other sensations associated with the condition.
Fibromyalgia is often called 'Fibromyalgia Syndrome' and the exact cause is not yet known. The word itself is made up from three others:
- 'Fibro' - this means 'fibrous tissue' of the body such as tendons and ligaments.
- 'My' - this means 'muscles'.
- 'Algia' - means pain.
However, with this condition the pain is not just felt in the fibrous tissue but all over the body. Although research continues to find out the exact cause, there are changes in the body of a person suffering from this condition such as:
- Sleep problems.
- Low hormone levels
- Pain messages sent within the body are disturbed
This condition can stop people from getting a good depth of sleep therefore leaving them still tired in the mornings. In addition, a poor night's sleep will make any pain experienced feel much worse.
Low Hormone Levels
Although there is no specific test verifying a person has fibromyalgia, people suffering from the condition have shown to have very low levels of certain hormones such as:
- Serotonin - regulates mood, sleep and appetite
- Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) - contributes to responses made during stress.
- Dopamine - assists with mood control, behaviour and learning.
The hormones mentioned above are thought to play a key role in causing fibromyalgia as they assist with body processes.
Disrupted pain messages
Medical researchers feel that one of the most likely causes of fibromyalgia is because of a disruption or a disturbed pattern with pain messages when they are being either sent or received. This is thought to be one of the main reasons why people with fibromyalgia not only experience widespread pain but why they tend to be more sensitive to touch and pressure as well.
Other contributing factors that may lead to fibromyalgia developing are genetics - in other words it can run in families. There are also a number of 'triggers' that are either thought to develop fibromyalgia or lead to a flare up, such as physical injury to the body, psychological disturbance or trauma, depression and viruses.
People can also develop what is known as 'secondary fibromyalgia'. This happens due to another ailment the person has. Conditions such as metabolic disorders, for example thyroid problems or inflammatory ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis.
According to the NHS UK, research points to the likelihood of several combined reasons leading to fibromyalgia developing, rather than one specific cause.
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Symptoms of fibromyalgia
There are a number of symptoms indicating the presence of fibromyalgia. The NHS UK and UK Fibromyalgia.com, lists several of the most common:
The two main indicators of fibromyalgia are:
- Extreme fatigue - the tiredness experienced can range from mild to severe. In addition, this fatigue may come on at short notice and leave the person drained of all energy. When this fatigue is particularly bad, it is very difficult to function normally.
- Widespread pain - the pain can be worse in certain areas such as the back or neck or overall pain in various areas of the body. The pain has often been described as - an ache, a burning sensation or sharp/stabbing. In addition fibromyalgia can also make you much more sensitive to pain - the medical term for this is hyperalgesia. This can lead onto another symptom called allodynia - this is when pain is felt when you shouldn't feel it, such as a very light touch.
- Stiffness - muscle and joint stiffness tends to be more severe when sitting for long periods in the one position, or on first getting up in the morning.
- Sleeping problems - it is thought that fibromyalgia doesn't allow the body to experience a deep enough level of sleep that is restorative to the body. Even although people feel they have had adequate hours in bed they can still wake up feeling tired.
- Irritable bowel syndrome - quite a number of people who have fibromyalgia also develop irritable bowel syndrome that causes pain and bloating in the gut. It can also cause either constipation or loose stools.
- Skin problems - in particular dry and/or itchy skin are the most common. However, people also report tender areas on the skin and rashes. Why people with fibromyalgia should suffer a higher incident of skin problems is still a mystery.
- Headaches - are often the result of the pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders due to fibromyalgia. In addition, these are not always mild headaches but can range in severity from slight pain to extreme migraines that also cause nausea.
- Cognitive issues - often referred to as 'fibro-fog' - mental processes are often sluggish due to the fatigue and other symptoms of the condition. People often find that their concentration, attention span, learning new things and memory can be affected.
- Depression and irritability - this is caused not only by the extreme fatigue and pain, but due to the low levels of certain hormones such as serotonin.
- Other symptoms - research has found that people with fibromyalgia can also experience conditions such as anxiety, restless leg syndrome, feeling hot and cold, tinnitus and in women, painful periods.
As stated previously, the symptoms can vary but people have also experienced some factors that can either make the condition worse or bring an attack on:
- Changes in the weather
- Stress levels
- Amount of physical activity taken
Why these situations should have an affect on fibromyalgia is still unclear to medical researchers. However, awareness of the condition has grown significantly. According to UK Fibromyalgia, both primary care and rheumatology clinics in the UK are now treating many more people and this is largely due to a publication produced by the American College of Rheumatology.
Exercises and diet tips for fibromyalgia
Relieving the pain of fibromyalgia
To relieve the pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia you may need to combine a few techniques in order to get the most benefit. The reason for this is that there are a number of symptoms and what may help one, will have no effect on another. For example, with my own fibromyalgia I use a combination of pain relief, exercise and relaxation. I also find that trying to maintain a good weight and diet is also beneficial. However, below is both the recommended medical advice and self-help strategies that you can try and see what works best for you.
- Pain relief - general over the counter medicines may be enough to relieve the pain, but if you find that it doesn't, then see your doctor who may prescribe stronger medicine.
- Anti-depressants may also be prescribed in order to boost hormone levels that are low such as serotonin. Many people who have taken this medication have reported feeling better.
- Other medications that may be prescribed to help relieve the symptoms could be to promote better sleep, to relax your muscles or even anti-convulsants used to treat epilepsy have been found to be beneficial.
- In addition to getting support from your doctor you may also be referred to other health care professionals such as a physiotherapist who can give exercises to help with pain etc. People are often now referred to a rheumatologist who specialises in conditions such as fibromyalgia. Many people also attend cognitive behavioural therapy or a psychotherapist. This can help you to develop a more positive outlook and so manage your illness much better.
- Many people have found great benefit by using alternative treatments such as acupuncture, reflexology and massage. However, herbal remedies haven't as yet proved to be a convincing therapy for most people with fibromyalgia. However, if you want to try them then check first with your doctor.
There are a number of things that can be done to help manage the condition better. Below are some of the most common self-help techniques:
- Support groups. There are many support groups for this condition in most developed countries. You can find these groups on the internet as well as in the community. I have found them not only beneficial by being able to talk to other people with the condition, but the groups also give information on the latest findings from medical research as well as new therapies that people can try. They are also excellent for advising people newly diagnosed with the complaint.
- Exercise - although fibromyalgia can cause not only fatigue but exhaustion, there might be days when you feel you just don't have the energy to exercise. However, the benefits of exercising can't be over emphasised. Now I'm not talking about 2 hours in a gym every day. Exercise could be anything from gentle stretching to walking, cycling, swimming or any other activity you enjoy and feel you could do. In addition many forms of exercise not only increase the oxygen intake into the body so reducing fatigue, but also strengthens the body. This has been found to not only make you feel better but helps to relieve pain.
- Relaxation. It's never that easy to find time to relax in today's hectic world. However, when you have fibromyalgia it is essential that you find the time to relax in anyway you enjoy. Stress makes the pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia much worse, therefore any relaxation that you do will help to combat the discomforts of the condition. You can use a hobby or interest to relax and/or use a relaxation technique from the thousands of books and tapes available - look around as well since many of these relaxation exercises are often free.
- Pacing your life. It's never easy to do this as I've said previously. However you - and those around you - need to understand that when you have fibromyalgia it is essential that periods of activity are interspersed with periods of rest. Once you are better at managing your condition, you'll probably find that your activity level is increasing and your need for rest reduces. However, keep in mind that fibromyalgia can flare up even if you are managing it well and at these times you need to ensure that you don't over do it.
- Try and ensure that your sleeping habits are geared towards helping reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. For example go to bed at the same time and rise at the same time. Do a little relaxation before retiring for the night. Try to avoid large meals, nicotine, caffeine before going to bed. Keep your bedroom dark and the environment not too hot or cold.
Fibromyalgia is not an easy condition to live with. However, taking the time to review your lifestyle and making a personal plan on how to manage it can make all the difference between being in constant pain and exhaustion and getting a good quality of life back again. Ensure that you are for the most part, on top of the condition, rather than fibromyalgia dictating to you what you can and can't do.
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