Physiotherapy for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition typically characterised by widespread pain and hypersensitivity; however, many other symptoms can also feature including (but not restricted to!) fatigue, depression, loss of concentration, difficulty with memory, changes to body temperature regulation and changes to digestive health.
It can leave people with the condition feeling helpless, frustrated and isolated. Fibromyalgia is a very complex condition and, although it is unlikely to be ‘cured’, there are a number of ways in which physiotherapists can help, such as acupuncture advice on pacing and exercise.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia primarily (but not exclusively) affects women between the ages of 30 and 50 years old and can be 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.
What are the typical symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary widely between every person, so everyone’s journey is unique, however common symptoms include
- widespread pain, hypersensitivity and unpredictable pains
- fatigue and difficulty sleeping
- muscle stiffness and tenderness
- 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 (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! The most effective ways to manage fibromyalgia symptoms are to:
- Identify triggers you can address,
- Engage in activities that you value and that give you a sense of enjoyment,
- Use 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!
Can physiotherapy for fibromyalgia help?
If you feel you need some help with controlling your symptoms or living well, your physiotherapist is there to work with you to:
- Help you understand your condition,
- Help identify your individual triggers,
- Develop symptom management strategies so you always feel in control,
- Improve your exercise tolerance so you can stay supple, strong and healthy, and
- Provide manual therapies that may help ease symptom flare ups, such as massage or acupuncture.
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