Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome. People with fibromyalgia commonly experience burning or aching pain in various regions of the body, including joints. They are also abnormally sensitive to touch, with certain areas being super-sensitive (‘tender points’).
The exact cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown, but it is believed to result from abnormal activation of the central pain system. Triggers for this activation include emotional distress and possibly genetic factors. Sleep disturbances may also be a factor.
There is no single simple solution for treating fibromyalgia, but the disease is not progressive or life-threatening.
If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the management of your condition will largely depend on the severity of your symptoms, which may range from very mild and occasional to severe and persistent.
Your doctor can help with explanations, medicines and management suggestions, but fibromyalgia is a condition in which self-management plays a key role. There are enormous benefits to be gained by using your own strategies to manage your symptoms.
Regular exercise is extremely important when you have fibromyalgia. Despite exercise being painful initially, with time you can become aerobically fit, though it may take you longer to achieve this than someone who doesn’t have fibromyalgia. Your aim should be to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 times a week. Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming or bike-riding are ideal. Your exercise programme should also include stretching and strengthening exercises, which are useful in managing fibromyalgia.
Psychological factors are important in managing fibromyalgia. You need to find the balance between work, rest and play by developing strategies to deal with both the everyday stresses and those associated with the chronic pain you are experiencing. Sometimes this may simply require a change in attitude — viewing problems as opportunities or challenges, and replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. You may require the help of a professional, such as a doctor who deals with chronic pain, or a clinical psychologist, to help you with stress management strategies.
Different techniques for relaxation, such as pursuing a hobby or increasing the amount of free time you have, are beneficial in fibromyalgia, but sometimes you may need more formal techniques to deal with the muscle tightness and the emotional problems associated with this condition. Learning breathing techniques, yoga, meditation and tai chi can all be of benefit.
Good ‘sleep hygiene’ principles (no daytime napping, having a regular waking time, doing regular exercise, following a wind-down routine at night, and restricting bed use to sleeping only) can lead to a general improvement in sleep. This may help improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Many people with fibromyalgia find that a fibromyalgia support group, e.g. a yoga-based group or a counselling-based group, help them manage their symptoms.
Last Reviewed: 12 February 2010