Fibromyalgia (or Fibromyalgia Syndome: FMS) is a poorly understood chronic pain condition characterised by 18 tender points across the body as specified by the American College of Rheumatology. There are no tests for fibromyalgia beyond the 18 tender points, meaning that all other possible causes must be ruled out before the diagnosis is given. As well as the pain, fibromyalgia patients are more prone to fatigue and ME, muscle stiffness, concentration issues, and difficulty sleeping.
Women are roughly 6 times more likely to present with FMS than men, and although the causes are unknown, medical professionals are beginning to understand that it is not a purely psychological condition. Pain by definition is a product of the brain- but fibromyalgia is definitely not all in your head.
Arthritis Research UK suggests some lifestyle changes that may improve the symptoms:
- Excercise to can improve sleep, increase muscle tone, and release endorphins
- Improve sleep hygiene for a better night’s sleep
- Manual therapy and acupuncture for short term relief
A paper by Hauser et al discusses management strategies. Education is in the “strong recommendations” category, and recommended as the first treatment approach. I have encountered a patient in clinic who had reduced her pain to almost nothing through education and support groups. One study discussed by HSS showed that the average duration of fibromyalgia is about 15 years, so patients should be aware that this is not a lifelong condition.
The psychological changes that can affect fibromyalgia should not be underestimated. Research shows that understanding a condition makes it easier to deal with. Having a positive attitude and healthy pain beliefs can also improve a patient’s pain levels- constructive support groups can help with this. Mindfulness and meditation have also been cited as beneficial.