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Fibromyositis; Fibrositis; Myofascial pain syndrome
Many studies have shown that exercise is the most effective component in managing fibromyalgia, and patients must expect to take part in a long-term exercise program. Physical activity prevents muscle wasting, increases well-being, and, over time, reduces fatigue and pain. Many studies have also demonstrated that exercise can improve physical and emotional function, as well as reduce symptoms, including pain.
Programs often combine aerobic, strength-training, and flexibility exercises with self-management education. Some studies have shown improvements lasting for up to 9 months after the exercise program ends.
Graded Exercise. The basic approach used for fibromyalgia is called graded exercise. Graded exercise means you slowly increase the amount of your physical activity.
In general, graded exercise involves:
Patients who try difficult exercises too early actually experience an increase in pain, and are likely to become discouraged and quit.
Every patient must be prepared for relapses and setbacks, but they should not get discouraged. Patients who do not respond to one type of exercise might consider experimenting with another form.
Physical therapy can be very helpful. Studies suggest that physical therapy may reduce muscle overload, lessen fatigue from poor posture and positioning, and help condition weak muscles.
Sleep is essential, particularly because sleep disruptions worsen pain. Many patients with fibromyalgia have trouble getting a restful and healing night's sleep. Those who are unable to sleep consistently have little improvement in symptoms. Swing shift work, for example, is extremely hard on fibromyalgia patients. Poor sleep habits can add to sleep problems. Tips for good sleep habits include:
[For more information see In-Depth Report #27: Insomnia.]
Fibromyalgia patients should maintain a healthy diet low in animal fat and high in fiber, with plenty of whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Although everyone should be careful about calories from fats, some are healthy.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Oils containing omega-3 fatty acids are of particular interest for arthritic pain. Such oils are found in cold-water fish. You can also purchase these oils as supplements called EPA-DHA or omega 3.
Vegetarian or Vegan Diet. A vegan diet has no meat, dairy, or eggs and includes uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts, and germinated seeds. The actual benefit of various vegetarian diets remains unproven.
Relaxation and stress-reduction techniques are proving to be helpful in managing chronic pain. Evidence shows that people with fibromyalgia have a more stressful response to daily conflicts and encounters than those without the disorder. Several relaxation and stress-reduction techniques may be helpful in managing chronic pain, including:
Biofeedback. Evidence from controlled trials does not suggest that biofeedback techniques are very helpful for fibromyalgia patients. During a biofeedback session, electric leads are taped to a subject's head. The person is encouraged to relax using any method that works. Brain waves are measured and an audio signal sounds when alpha waves are detected. Alpha waves are brain waves that occur with a state of deep relaxation. By repeating the process, people using biofeedback connect the sound with the relaxed state, and learn to relax on their own.
Meditation. Meditation, used for many years in Eastern cultures, is now widely accepted in this country as an effective relaxation technique. A number of studies are reporting its benefits for fibromyalgia patients who practice on a continued and regular basis. The practiced meditator can achieve the following physical benefits:
An important goal for both religious and therapeutic meditation practices is to quiet the mind -- essentially to relax thought. This redirection of brain activity from thoughts and worries to the senses disrupts the stress response and prompts relaxation and renewed energy.
People who try meditation for the first time should understand that it can be difficult to quiet the mind, and they should not be discouraged by a lack of immediate results. Some experts recommend meditating for no longer than 20 minutes in the morning after awakening and then again in the early evening before dinner. Even once a day is helpful. Do not meditate before going to bed, because it causes some people to wake up in the middle of the night, alert and unable to return to sleep.
Hypnosis. In one small, short-term controlled study, hypnosis was more effective than physical therapy in improving function and reducing pain.
Massage Therapy. Massage therapy is thought to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart and relaxes the body. In one study, patients who were given 30-minute massage sessions twice a week experienced lower stress and anxiety and less pain after 5 weeks compared to a group receiving an alternative therapy called transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS).
Because of the difficulties in treating fibromyalgia, many patients seek alternative therapies. Although some studies have reported a benefit from these treatments, there is not enough evidence to recommend them. In one analysis, evidence was weakest on the advantages of so-called manipulative ("hands-on") approaches, such as chiropractic treatments.
Acupuncture. Studies continue to report conflicting results on acupuncture's ability to relieve pain. Several small studies suggest that it offers some benefit, especially to people who cannot take medicines because of their side effects. Acupuncture also seems to help relieve pain when added to treatment with tricyclic antidepressants and exercise, and the improvements last for a few months after treatment ends. Other studies have not found enough evidence to support the use of acupuncture for fibromyalgia.
Chiropractic or Osteopathic Manipulation. Chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation may also help some patients. While some studies have reported pain relief and improved sleep with osteopathic manipulation, larger controlled studies are needed to clearly identify whether manipulation is an effective treatment. Osteopathic techniques may include manipulation of the spine or muscle tissue release. There is always a very small risk for adverse effects from any of these techniques. For example, in rare cases manipulation of the neck has caused stroke or damage to the large blood vessels in the neck.
Hydrotherapy and Similar Treatments. Hydrotherapy, also called balneotherapy, involves soaking in water, such as hot tubs, pools, or baths, to help relieve pain. One study found that exercising in a warm swimming pool was a cost-effective therapy that improves quality of life in women with fibromyalgia.
Warmth itself might provide some relief. According to another small study, Waon therapy -- a type of treatment in which patients first sit in a dry sauna and then are placed in a warm room and wrapped in blankets -- significantly reduced pain in fibromyalgia patients.
Herbal or Natural Remedies. Some alternative remedies are being investigated for fibromyalgia:
It is extremely important for patients to realize that any herbal remedy or natural medicine that has positive effects most likely has negative side effects and toxic reactions, just as any conventional drug does. Consult a doctor before using any untested products or dietary supplements. Also discuss with your doctor the potential interactions between the supplements and any medications you take.
Generally, manufacturers of herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not need approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell their products. Just like a drug, herbs and supplements can affect the body's chemistry, and therefore have the potential to produce side effects that may be harmful. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even deadly side effects from herbal products. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.
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