If you’re living with fibromyalgia, the pain and fatigue don’t have to last forever. With some determination and a few tools in your fibro-management toolbox, you can control your pain and get back to living the life you miss. Let’s take a look at some basic facts, and then explore the ways you can take control of your life with diet, exercise, and sleep hygiene.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia, or FMS, is a chronic pain disorder for which the causes aren’t well understood. More and more doctors are considering FMS a disorder of the central nervous system, which propagates pain signals in the body and brain even when there’s no external pain stimulus. In other words, your body is making you feel pain even when there’s no good reason for the pain to be there.
Most FMS patients suffer from insomnia or poor sleep, which may facilitate the body chemistry that leads to pain. FMS sufferers may also have “fibro-fog,” a sense of mental fogginess that some sufferers describe as thinking “under water” or “in slow motion.”
Since doctors don’t understand how fibromyalgia works very well, and since it may have several different original causes, there’s no cure for FMS. Treatment is focused on managing the pain, tiredness, and fibro-fog of fibromyalgia, helping people with FMS stay as active, healthy, and happy as possible.
Fibromyalgia medications have come a long way in the past decade. Even seven years ago, there were no dedicated FMS drugs on the market. Since then, three separate medications designed to minimize FMS pain have been approved and widely distributed: Savella, Cymbalta, and Lyrica. Many fibro patients find that one of these drugs significantly reduces pain without side effects, but many more find that the drugs don’t work, or leave them irritable or unable to function. Other drug therapies, such as first-generation anti-depressants than may increase serotonin levels or help with interrupted sleep, similarly work for some FMS patients but not for others.
Even if the drugs offer some relief, there are a range of lifestyle choices that can drastically improve life with FMS. Here are the most widely-recognized practices for reducing your pain:
- Improve your sleep habits. Take control of your sleep schedule. Set a regular sleep time and wake-up time, and stick to them every single day for six weeks. See if that regular routine helps cue your body to sleep at bedtime and helps you wake up feeling more refreshed. Turn off the TV and read or meditate for 20 minutes before bed in dim light, so your body can respond to natural evening stimuli that prepare your brain for sleep. When you watch TV or look at your computer at night, the unnatural bright light tells your brain to stay awake and can disrupt sleep.
- Improve your bedroom and nighttime comfort. When you walk into your bedroom, the atmosphere should be immediately relaxing. Reduce clutter, make your bed in the morning, and let your room be a space that says “rest.” Invest in a high-quality mattress and comfortable sheets. Consider an all-natural latex or gel mattress that is specifically designed to minimize pressure points and keep your spine aligned while you sleep, so that you wake up refreshed instead of in more pain thanks to an uncomfortable bed.
- Exercise. When you hurt, it can seem impossible to think about exercise. Start slow, even if it’s just stretching in bed for twenty minutes the first week. Walk, stretch, swim, or lift weights at home every day (or at least five times per week). Moving your body gently is one of the best things you can do for FMS. You’ll find that you feel at your best on exercise days, and actually look forward to moving after your first few weeks. If you were active before your FMS diagnosis, you may have to be particularly careful to take it easy, so you don’t trigger a flare.
- Consider dietary changes. Consult with an allergist and a nutritionist if you can—find out if you have any food allergies or sensitivities that may be increasing your daily pain. Some FMS patients have success with eliminating gluten, others with reducing alcohol, sugar, or processed foods. Any “fibromyalgia diet” should include mostly whole, natural foods and the full spectrum of nutrients, so get whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and proteins every day for best health.
The healthier you are, the better you will feel. Your fibromyalgia pain may never fade completely—but a mix of high-quality sleep, gentle exercise, and healthy diet will help you feel your best so you can focus on managing your pain with a happy mind and a strong body.