Fibromyalgia, thought to be a central nervous system disorder that causes widespread pain, can be overwhelming, especially in a healthcare system not always attuned to its permutations. Below, rheumatologist Dr. Nathan Wei, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Md., and Jan Chambers, founder of the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association, suggests the best ways to manage fibro.
Be your own champion. “Be an investigative reporter about the condition,” says Wei, suggesting www.arthritisfoundation.org as a start. “Many physicians still believe that fibromyalgia doesn’t exist. You have to find one who recognizes the myriad presentations fibromyalgia can show.” You can find a fibro specialist through the National Fibromyalgia Association or fibromyalgia support group (find one here).
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Play well with others. That your healthcare team—rheumatologist, physical therapist, psychologist, etc.– is trying to help you is sometimes hard to remember, says Chambers. She suggests mapping symptoms and tracking tests so doctors can get the big picture fast. “A symptom log makes an office visit simpler,” agrees Wei. “But don’t record every breath.”
Exercise through the pain. “The increased endorphins”— feel-good hormones released with exercise—“help with pain, and exercise helps recondition muscles,” says Wei. Start on a treadmill or stationary bike for a minute a day working up to 30 minutes. Add light resistance training two times a week.
Manage your mind. Wei recommends cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you manage fibro pain through relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and guided imagery. Ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist experienced with fibromyalgia.
Get serious about sleep. “One of the major problems with fibromyalgia is non-restorative sleep,” says Wei. Clear the bedroom of stimulating work and computers, keep a regular sleep schedule, and avoid sleep medications.