If you have fibromyalgia, you know that every day can be a challenge. You just want to live your life, but the pain makes it difficult and, sometimes, nearly impossible.
The American Chronic Pain Association states that fibromyalgia affects an estimated 2 to 4 percent of the population or as many as 6 to 12 million people. About 90 percent of those are women.
The cause isn’t known and, currently, there is no cure. However, doctors are learning more every day about the physiological facets of the disease, giving them new information to work within their search for effective treatments.
Meanwhile, patients can improve their overall quality of life by learning more about the disease and the lifestyle habits that can help reduce the symptoms.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome that causes pain and mental distress as well as other accompanying symptoms like fatigue, mood changes, and memory problems. Scientists aren’t sure what causes it, but they think that it stems from issues in the nerves in the brain.
The syndrome has been compared to arthritis since it can cause similar symptoms of pain and fatigue. Unlike arthritis, however, it doesn’t cause redness, swelling or joint damage.
Some factors seem to increase the risk of fibromyalgia or to trigger its appearance. These include the following; however, the condition sometimes comes on with no warning or precipitating incident:
- Physical trauma
- Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- Significant psychological stress
Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Widespread pain, usually a constant dull ache that lasts for months and occurs on both sides of the body; often includes jaw pain and face pain as well as headaches and stiff joints and muscles
- Tingling and numbness, usually in the hands and feet
- Restless leg syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Fatigue even after a good night’s sleep
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Brain fog, often called “fibro fog,” that makes it difficult to focus, pay attention and concentrate
Treatments focus mainly on managing symptoms and include medications, exercise, acupuncture, psychotherapy, massage, chiropractic care, and physical therapy.
Tips to Help Improve Quality of Life With Fibromyalgia
Living with fibromyalgia requires you to make adjustments in your life but taking an active role in managing your condition can mean the difference between controlling your symptoms and letting them control you. Below are 15 tips that can help make living with fibromyalgia a little easier.
1. Use Heat
Many of those living with fibromyalgia swear by hot baths, hot water bottles, and heating pads. All of these options help relax tense muscles, relieve pain and increase flexibility and ease of movement.
Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat — warm water not only can ease muscle tightness and pain, but it’s also soothing and comforting mentally. It can also increase endorphins that help you sleep more soundly.
2. Take Personal Time Each Day
Set aside at least 30 minutes a day and devote it to “me time.” Use that time to do something relaxing, like taking a slow walk in the park, reading a favorite book or listening to some favorite music. Allow yourself to just be, without any pressure to run and do something.
3. Set a Regular Sleep Pattern
Sleep can be difficult when you have fibromyalgia, but you can make it easier by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, whether it’s a weekday or weekend. Set a time that works with your body clock and then sticks with it. Be sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol as well as spicy foods before bedtime.
4. Take a Daily Walk, No Matter What
Walking is something most of us can do, even on a bad day. Exercise can be difficult with fibromyalgia, but studies have shown that getting regular exercise can reduce pain overall. Start slow, then gradually increase your pace and distance as you gain strength and endurance.
5. Practice a Recommended Stress-relieving Activity
Stress can trigger symptoms, so it’s best if you regularly practice a designated stress-relieving activity. Good options include yoga, tai chi, meditation, deep breathing, and journaling. All of these have been shown in studies to reduce stress. They can also help improve your coping abilities over time.
6. Take Bursts of Action
It can be tempting on a good day to go all out — clean the entire house, for example, or tackle that large work project you’ve been waiting to do. However, this sort of approach can burn you out quickly and make your symptoms worse the next day.
Try employing short bursts of action instead. Do a small amount of housework each day, for example, or try cutting that project down into smaller pieces you can do a little at a time. When you are having a good day, stop before you exhaust yourself to prevent a flare-up later on.
7. Use Lists and Calendars
If one of your symptoms is brain fog, you know you can forget things or sometimes allow essential tasks to fall through the cracks. Get used to making daily “to-do” lists or use a calendar app on your computer or smartphone to keep yourself on track. Don’t rely on your brain. Use whatever tools you need to support your memory.
8. Eat a Low-glycemic Diet
Studies have found a connection between insulin resistance, which is usually a factor in diabetes, and fibromyalgia. In a 2019 study, researchers found that most people with fibromyalgia had elevated A1C levels, which is a mark of insulin resistance or prediabetes. They also showed that treating patients who met the criteria for prediabetes with metformin — the most common diabetes medication — resulted in dramatic improvements in widespread pain.
These findings are preliminary, and more studies need to be done to confirm them, but they do provide an exciting new insight into fibromyalgia. You can talk to your doctor about the results and, meanwhile, consider following a diet similar to what a person with prediabetes would follow. That means eating mostly low-glycemic foods that will not spike blood-sugar levels and limiting sugary treats.
9. Keep a Journal
Not only does journaling relieve stress, but it can also help you identify the things that trigger your flare-ups. For at least a few weeks, keep careful track of what you eat and drink, what activities you do, how well you sleep and any other details that may be pertinent, and then note your level of pain and any other symptoms you may have. Eventually, you may be able to detect patterns that reveal your triggers.
10. Learn to Say ‘No’
It’s not easy to say no, but it’s an important word for those living with fibromyalgia. Overloading yourself is never a good idea, and it’s better to step away from obligations early on rather than waiting until someone is counting on you. Stay active but allow some spaces in your calendar to remain open.
11. Keep Your Mind Busy
You’re going to have days when you can’t do much of anything more than rest on the couch. It’s easy to get depressed during those times, so to reduce your risk of suffering the blues, make a list of activities you can manage with your feet up. Maybe you can pay bills, catch up on your paperwork and files, help your child with a homework assignment, plan your next vacation or even work a crossword puzzle or play an enjoyable game with family members.
All of these activities can help relieve stress and prevent worry until you’re feeling more energy again.
12. Join a Support Group
Check your local area for options. If there aren’t any, consider starting one yourself. Talking to others who are going through the same thing as you are can be uniquely helpful. In a 2005 study, researchers found that support groups for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia were viewed as helpful by participants for several disease-related challenges, including:
- Finding new information
- Legitimizing the illness
- Feeling understood by others
- Learning how to deal with doctors
The National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association has a list of support groups you can check to see if there are any groups in your state. Do note how you feel after the meetings. If you’re feeling uplifted and more confident, those are good signs, but if you find that the group only promotes rumination and complaining about the disease, try to find a more proactive one.
13. Find Ways to Make Your Job Work for You
One of the biggest challenges for people with fibromyalgia is work. If it’s leaving you exhausted and in pain, try sitting down and brainstorming some solutions. Maybe you can adjust your schedule, setting your hours for earlier or later in the day to take advantage of your higher-energy times.
Maybe you can rearrange your workspace to be more comfortable. Possibly your boss would even be open to you working from home on occasion. Don’t be afraid to ask about options. Even a small change could be enough to make a big difference.
14. Learn More About Alternative Treatments
There are many alternative treatments available that can help reduce fibromyalgia pain and fatigue. These include acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, and physical therapy. You have nothing to lose by trying them, and they may help you feel better.
Some herbs and vitamins recommended for those with fibromyalgia include the following. Always check with your doctor before taking a new supplement.
- Melatonin (if you’re having trouble sleeping)
- St John’s wort
- Vitamin D12
- Siberian ginseng
Capsaicin cream can also help relieve painful muscles.
15. Try Not to Focus on Your Fibromyalgia
Once you put some new lifestyle habits into place that support your well-being, try to turn your focus to other pursuits like your family, creative projects or hobbies. Focusing too much on your fibromyalgia can increase stress and make your pain worse.
Try to foster positive thinking by regularly making yourself laugh like by watching more cat videos, engaging in enjoyable activities and telling yourself that you can manage this. Fibromyalgia is a factor in your life, but it doesn’t have to rule your life.
American Chronic Pain Association. (2017, August 28). Quick Facts on Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from https://www.theacpa.org/conditions-treatments/conditions-a-z/fibromyalgia/two-takes-on-fibro/quick-facts-on-fibromyalgia/
Busch, A. J. (2011). Exercise Therapy for Fibromyalgia. Curr Pain Headache Rep, 15(5), 358–367. doi:10.1007/s11916-011-0214-2
Friedberg, F. (2005). Do support groups help people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia? A comparison of active and inactive members. J Rheumatol., 32(12), 2416-20. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16331774
Pappolla, M. A., Manchikanti, L., Andersen, C. R., Greig, N. H., Ahmed, F., Fang, X., … Trescot, A. M. (2019). Is insulin resistance the cause of fibromyalgia? A preliminary report. PLOS ONE, 14(5), e0216079. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216079
Women’s Health. (2019, April 1). Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/fibromyalgia