Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons; fatigue, and multiple tender points on the body. While no one knows what causes fibromyalgia, there is evidence that people with the condition may be more sensitive to pain because something is wrong with the body's usual pain perception processes. More women than men have fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia, while different for everyone who has it, tends to come and go throughout life. It also tends to coexist with sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome. Although fibromyalgia can be debilitating for some people, it is not degenerative or life threatening, and you can manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life with professional and self care.
It is not uncommon for people with fibromyalgia to have other conditions, including temporomandibular joint disorder and bladder problems.
No one knows what causes fibromyalgia, although there are several theories, and multiple factors may bring on the condition.
There is no laboratory test for fibromyalgia, but your doctor may order several tests, including blood tests and x-rays to rule out other diseases. Your doctor may also press firmly on specific "tender points" on your head and body to see which ones are abnormally sensitive under pressure. Be sure to tell your health care provider about all of your symptoms. You may be referred to a rheumatologist, who specializes in treating rheumatic conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis.
The goal is to help you function as well as possible on a daily basis. While it is probably not possible to completely relieve all of your symptoms, medication and certain complementary and alternative therapies may help reduce symptoms.
Your health care provider may prescribe the following drugs:
Nutritional support, exercise, herbs, and mind-body techniques may help reduce symptoms.
These nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
You can address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
It may seem odd to suggest exercising when your muscles are sore and you are in pain, but a number of studies show that regular, low intensity exercise is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia. Although you may experience a slight increase in pain and soreness when you start, as you continue you will help lessen muscle tension and stiffness, improve sleep quality, and raise serotonin and endorphin levels, helping to reduce pain. Exercise programs should include multiple dimensions, including strength, endurances, flexibility, and balance. Many people with fibromyalgia find warm water aquatic exercises to be helpful. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to design an exercise program that is best for you.
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. of herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Herbal therapies aim to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia, or those of common conditions associated with fibromyalgia.
Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual. Some of the homeopathic remedies used for fibromyalgia are below.
Stress makes symptoms of fibromyalgia worse, so mind-body therapies including meditation and biofeedback can be helpful in learning relaxation techniques.
Using 2 - 4 cups of Epsom salts in a warm bath can soothe aching muscles.
The National Institutes of Health recommends acupuncture as a treatment for fibromyalgia. Acupuncturists treat people with fibromyalgia based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In fibromyalgia, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the spleen or kidney meridians. Moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) is used to strengthen the entire energy system. Qualified practitioners may also advise people with fibromyalgia on lifestyle and diet, and provide recommendations on the use of herbal medicines.
Because fibromyalgia generally includes low back pain or neck pain (for which spinal manipulation is beneficial), chiropractors commonly treat people who have this condition. In one small study, women with fibromyalgia reported that they experienced a 77% reduction in pain intensity, 63% improvement in sleep quality, and 75% improvement in fatigue level after receiving 30 chiropractic treatments. Symptom relief continued for 1 month after treatment ended.
Massage may reduce stress, improve circulation, and soothe sore muscles. Find a massage therapist who has experience working with fibromyalgia.
Education and support groups may help you manage your condition.
Abeles M, Solitar B, Pillinger M, Abeles A. Update on Fibromyalgia Therapy. The American Journal of Medicine. 2008;121(7).
Bartecchi CE. Fibromyalgia and complementary and alternative medicine. Mayo Clin Proc. 2005;80(6):826; author reply 826-7.
Bennett R. Clinical Manifestations and Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America. 2009;35(2).
Chakrabarty S, Zoorob R. Fibromyalgia. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(2):247-54.
Firestein: Kelly's Textbook of Rheumatology, 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders. 2008.
McBeth J, Jones K. Epidemiology of chronic musculoskeletal pain. Best Pract Res ClinRheumatol. 2007;21(3):403-25.
Müller W, Schneider EM, Stratz T. The classification of fibromyalgia syndrome. Rheumatol Int. 2007;27(11):1005-10.
Reiter RJ, Acuna-Castroviejo D, Tan DX. Melatonin therapy in fibromyalgia. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2007;11(5):339-42.
Staud R. Treatment of fibromyalgia and its symptoms. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2007;8(11):1629-42.
Targino RA, Imamura M, Kaziyama HH, Souza LP, Hsing WT, Furlan AD, Imamura ST, Azevedo Neto RS. A randomized controlled trial of acupuncture added to usual treatment for fibromyalgia. J Rehabil Med. 2008;40(7):582-8.
Zoppi M, Maresca M. Symptoms accompanying fibromyalgia. Reumatismo. 2008;60(3):217-20.
© 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885