What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia primarily (but not exclusively) affects women between the ages of 30 and 50 years old and is often triggered by a stressful/traumatic physical or psychological event. Following this event, chemical imbalance in the brain and nervous system lowers the body’s pain thresholds causing normal signals to be felt as pain, and also disturbs the body’s ability to cope with physical and psychological stressors, despite no tissue damage or deformity. It can have a significant impact on quality of life and participation in normal daily work and social activities, therefore making fibromyalgia treatment important.

What are the typical symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia vary widely, so everyone’s journey is unique, however, common symptoms include

  • widespread pain, hypersensitivity and unpredictable pains
  • fatigue and difficulty sleeping
  • muscle stiffness and tenderness
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles/electric shock sensations
  • hypersensitivity to other stimuli (smell, light and taste)
  • dry mouth
  • hot sweats
  • problems with mental processes i.e. speech, memory and concentration (fibrofog)

Fibromyalgia also rarely occurs alone and is often associated with the development of other conditions such as IBS, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression/anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.

How can I help myself?

Unfortunately, Fibromyalgia is not a condition that has any known cure, and so the focus turns to learning to live well with the condition, which can be done! Fibromyalgia treatment often involves the following

  1. Identify any psychological triggers that can lead to flare ups (for example by using a diary to track symptoms and recent events), then try to manage these triggers where possible. Discussions with colleagues, friends and family may help to manage triggers by agreeing changes or by providing solutions you may not have thought of alone.
  1. Use relaxation and mindfulness practices to calm your nervous system. There are some great apps available, such as Calm or Headspace that can help by providing guided relaxation and mindfulness.
  1. Gradually increase activity levels to improve exercise tolerance, mobility and strength. Yoga, Pilates, swimming and brisk walking are all great ways to do this, but if none of these take your fancy, just do something that you enjoy that gets your heart racing! Ultimately it is most important to engage in activities that you value and that give you a sense of enjoyment. Try to work at a level that challenges your symptoms and may increase them slightly, but not at a level where your symptoms flare up for days. Using a diary can help to know what the right level is for you, and eventually that level will change as you get fitter and improve your exercise tolerance. By improving your exercise tolerance, your body’s pain thresholds will increase and so you will not be affected as easily by day to day activities and you will be able to engage in more of your valued activities.

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