With fibromyalgia, lifestyle changes and self-care are critical to improving quality of life, so we asked two fibromyalgia care experts and NIH research fellows Dr. Leslie Crofford of Vanderbilt University and Dr. Daniel Clauw of the University of Michigan for advice for patients. Below are their recommendations.
Exercise regularly. At first, it may hurt to move, but research shows that gradually increasing exercise can reduce pain. Start small with gentle movements like tai chi or yoga, says Dr. Crofford. “In fibromyalgia, the communication between the brain and the body is abnormal, but regular exercise helps the brain get used to the movements of the body.”
Understand that there is no magic pill. “For chronic pain, there is no easy solution,” explains Dr. Clauw. As with other chronic problems such as diabetes or asthma, the patient must take an active role in managing symptoms by making lifestyle changes. According to Dr. Clauw, “Doctors who treat fibromyalgia and other conditions that cause chronic pain with medication alone will fail.”
Reduce stress. “It’s important to identify stress triggers because stress can make fibromyalgia worse,” says Dr. Crofford. To learn to cope with emotional stress and depression, she recommends cognitive behavioral therapy. These strategies include avoiding negative self-talk, learning to relax, prioritizing tasks to conserve energy, and coping with pain when it intensifies.
Get enough sleep. Fibromyalgia pain and fatigue are related and aggravate each other. This is because the neurotransmitters that control pain also control sleep, mood, and memory, says Dr. Clauw. That’s why it’s essential to get enough sleep by following these good habits: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, reduce naps, and exercise.
Try other non-drug treatments. Research funded by the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shows that mind-body practices may be beneficial for fibromyalgia. In addition to tai chi and yoga, there is encouraging evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy, massage, and acupuncture improve pain, stiffness, fatigue, and depression.
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