Many people with fibromyalgia have learnt to manage their condition so that they can continue to live their lives enjoyably despite their symptoms. The following sections look at some of the things that might help.
If you're in pain your instinct may be to avoid exercise, but lack of activity can lead to secondary problems as the muscles weaken. Keeping active, with a combination of aerobic activity and exercises to improve your flexibility, will help prevent this happening. Exercise can also help you to get a better night's sleep.
'Aerobic' simply means increasing the circulation of oxygen through the blood, so any exercise that gets you breathing more heavily and your heart beating faster is aerobic. Swimming is particularly recommended for people with fibromyalgia, but walking and cycling are also helpful.
Build up your exercise at a rate you can cope with, pace yourself and be patient. You may find that your pain and tiredness become worse at first as you start to exercise muscles that haven’t been used for a while. Try to do the same amount of exercise each day so that you build up your muscle strength and stamina. Increasing your exercise little by little will also improve your fitness and flexibility.
Yoga and t'ai chi have been shown to help some people with fibromyalgia.
Read more about exercise and arthritis.
Diet and fibromyalgia
No particular diet has been proven to help fibromyalgia, but we recommend keeping your weight within a healthy range by eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Read more about diet and arthritis.
Some people with fibromyalgia find that complementary medicines help their symptoms. Treatments like massage and acupuncture may temporarily ease the pain and discomfort, although they often don't result in long-term relief of symptoms.
A recent review by Arthritis Research UK found a little evidence that capsaicin and homoeopathy might have some benefit for people with fibromyalgia – although applying capsaicin cream might not be practical for widespread pain.
Generally speaking complementary therapies are relatively safe, although there are some risks associated with specific therapies. The medicines and therapies mentioned above are reported to have few potential side-effects.
It's important to go to a legally registered therapist, or one who has a set ethical code and is fully insured.
If you do try therapies or supplements, be critical of what they're doing for you when deciding whether to continue with them.
Read more about complementary and alternative medicine for arthritis.
Poor sleep is a key symptom of fibromyalgia, so getting enough good-quality sleep is an important part of the treatment. Not only will it help with tiredness and fatigue but you may also find it helps with your pain.
To make sure you get a better night’s sleep:
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature.
- Try a warm bath before bedtime to help ease pain and stiffness.
- Develop a sleep routine, settling down and getting up at the same time each day.
- Try listening to some soothing music before bed.
- Some gentle exercises may help reduce muscle tension, but it's probably best to avoid more energetic exercise too close to bedtime.
- Keep a notepad by your bed so that if you think of something you need to do the next day you can write it down and then put it out of your mind.
- Avoid alcohol, tea or coffee (or any other form of caffeine) late at night.
- Try to stop smoking or at least don't smoke close to bedtime.
- Avoid watching TV and using computers, tablets or smartphones in your bedroom.
- Try not to keep checking the time during the night.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very effective for people who have severely disrupted sleep.
Sleeping tablets are not normally recommended as tolerance and addiction problems are common.
Read more about fatigue and arthritis and sleep and arthritis.
Fibromyalgia varies from person to person. Try some of the following tips to find out what works for you:
- Learn about fibromyalgia. Understanding it can help to ease your fear and anxiety.
- Find out if there’s a support group in your area, or think about joining an online fibromyalgia forum or expert patient programme. Discussing your experiences with others who have fibromyalgia often helps.
- Encourage your family and friends to find out more and discuss your condition with you – you could show them this information to help explain your experiences. It’s especially important that they understand you may be in severe pain even if you look well.
- Learn to take time out for yourself to relax your mind and your muscles.
- Practise simple changes in behaviour such as pushing through the pain until it stops you or trying to ignore the symptoms. Or listen to your body and be compassionate to yourself as you would towards someone you care for.
- Find more effective ways of communicating feelings such as anxiety or anger. Counselling or CBT can help to break the cycle of anxiety, depression and pain and has helped many people keep their pain under control – your GP will be able to refer you.
- Unhappiness at home or work can make pain feel worse. Addressing the causes of this unhappiness could help. Ask for help from people at your work, such as a friend, colleague or manager. You can also seek advice from experts such as occupational therapists, a Jobcentre Plus office and the Citizens Advice Bureau. They can work with you and your employer to find the best solution for everyone.
- Some people have found that meditation helps relieve their pain.
- Try the medications your doctor offers and discuss which ones are helpful.
Read more about living with long-term pain.