What is it?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterised by widespread pain throughout the body along with fatigue, memory problems, sleep and mood disorders. Sufferers of fibromyalgia often spend years trying to find a diagnosis that fits their symptoms and fluctuate between periods of having high energy and ‘crashes’ of fatigue and pain. In severe cases, fibromyalgia can cause significant lifestyle disruptions, including reduced activity, unemployment and depression.
The underlying mechanism that creates the symptoms of fibromyalgia has been shown to be increased pain amplification by the central nervous system and reduced activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Essentially this means that small pain signals in the body are processed as large pain signals by the central nervous system.
What causes it?
Fibromyalgia is a complicated condition that is poorly understood. This can be very frustrating for sufferers, who often find themselves being shuffled between health practitioners looking for answers and long term relief. While the pain generally feels muscular, usually little to no muscular damage or injury can be found on physical assessment or investigations. The symptoms can also mimic those of an infectious illness or other chronic diseases. Often a diagnosis of fibromyalgia is reached after other diseases and causes have been ruled out.
The cause of fibromyalgia is as yet unknown. It was initially thought that the depression and reduced activity that are often associated with fibromyalgia could be causative, however it has been shown that these are symptoms of fibromyalgia rather than causes. Other significant signs are a lack of REM (good quality) sleep in sufferers and a positive result of more than 11 out of 18 muscular trigger points.
What is the treatment?
Following a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the primary strategy is to understand and manage your symptoms. This can involve pacing activities and exercise so as to reduce ‘crashes’ and pain cycles that lead to frustration. Identifying activity, employment and a routine that doesn’t exacerbate symptoms can have a significant impact on quality of life for someone with fibromyalgia. Having psychological support can also be very important to help deal with the emotional distress of a complex chronic condition that has no outward physical signs.
Treatments that have been shown to help reduce symptoms are TENS (electrical stimulation) which produces an endorphin response and can reduce pain; certain medications may be helpful when prescribed by a doctor; and education and understanding of this condition, helping to manage and maintain some control over your symptoms. Physiotherapists can have a large role in education and helping patients find a routine and activity level that helps them manage their condition as best as possible, as well as providing symptomatic relief during pain cycles with manual therapy, stretching and massage techniques.
It is always best to see a medical professional for advice on your individual injury or condition.
Over the next few months, many of us will be spending more time at home. For each of us, this will mean something different. However, regardless of your circumstances, there are a few things you can do to make your time at home a little easier and healthier.
Maintain a routine.
A new routine may take a while to develop and will depend on the demands placed on you by your work or children. However, some things can help with both mental and physical health when staying at home for long periods. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day can have a significant impact on wellness, ensuring that you have a better sleep and also feel more settled when you wake up.
Use screens thoughtfully.
Technology can help us to connect with those who are not there, yet can also take us away from things happening around us. Delete or at least limit the time you spend on apps that you find distracting, such as news or social media and schedule in quality catch-ups with friends and family via video.
Take time to adjust your home workstation.
If you will be spending hours at a time on your computer, it is essential to take the time to ensure your workstation is set up optimally to reduce stress on your body while working. You can chat with your physiotherapist for some tips on how to set up your home office.
Stay in touch with your physio.
If you are struggling with pain at home, your physiotherapist may offer a variety of online treatment solutions, even if you can’t make it to the clinic. Remember that in Australia, physiotherapy and allied health services have been open during this time, classified as an essential service, so appointments should still be available. Reach out to your physiotherapist if you are in pain.
Join an online fitness group and workout with others.
Joining a daily online workout session is one way to keep active and also stick to a schedule. Many of the videos allow you to join in live, helping to increase commitment and a sense of community with your fellow exercisers.
Stretch before bed.
Start with just three simple stretches (eg: calves, hamstrings and triceps) and slowly build up your repertoire. Stretching before bed can help to prepare your body for rest while also improving flexibility. Try to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds for optimal effect.