Fibromyalgia at Work


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 disturbs the body’s ability to cope with physical and psychological stressors, despite no tissue damage or deformity.  

Fibromyalgia in the workplace can have a significant impact on quality of life and participation in normal working activities, for example, if symptoms are poorly managed, those with fibromyalgia are more likely to have frequent and longer periods of sickness absence either due to pain or poor mental wellbeing. Keep your supervisor informed if you are seeing signs of struggling with a flare up, they may be able to help and offer a temporary period of alternative duties or refer you for support through the occupational health team. 

What are the typical symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary widely between every person, so everyone’s fibro 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 e.g. speech, memory and concentration (fibro-fog) 

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! The most effective way to manage fibromyalgia in the workplace is to 

  • Identify triggers you can address, 
  • Join a support group for Fibromyalgia 
  • Engage in activities that you value and that give you a sense of enjoyment, 
  • Use meditation, relaxation and mindfulness practices to calm your nervous system, and 
  • 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. 

How can physiotherapy help?

If you feel you need some help with controlling your symptoms or living well, the physiotherapists at Physiotherapy Matters are there to work with you to; 

  • Help you understand your condition, 
  • Help identify your individual triggers, 
  • Provide advice on how to manage those triggers, 
  • Complete ergonomic workplace assessments to minimise any work-related triggers, 
  • Develop symptom management strategies so you always feel in control, 
  • Provide an individualised exercise program so you can stay supple, strong and healthy, including work hardening to improve your tolerance to activities in the workplace, and 
  • Provide additional manual therapies that may help ease symptom flare-ups, such as 
  • Soft tissue massage to reduce any muscular tension in the surrounding muscles 
  • Acupuncture for reduction of pain 

More detailed information about fibromyalgia can be found on the NHS website. 

Remember to let your line manager know if you struggle with symptoms of Fibromyalgia and if you are experiencing a flare up. Work may be able to offer you support by way of temporary modified activities, reduced hours and/ or refer you to their occupational health team for assessment and support. 

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No matter whether your condition was caused by a sport, work accident or otherwise, we welcome the chance to serve you.

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