Living with fibromyalgia can be difficult and frustrating. I developed fibromyalgia as a teenager, and for more than a year struggled with tasks as simple as walking up the stairs. Before I was able to manage my fibromyalgia, each day was long and painful, and most everyday activities were out of the question. I felt like my life was closing in around me, preventing me from doing everything I had previously loved.
After living with fibromyalgia for many years, I’ve found a few tips that help me cope and live a rich, full life — despite the pain.
1. Cut down on stress
Although it may sound cliché and often feel impossible to do, cutting down on sources of stress in your life is important when you’re dealing with fibromyalgia. A schedule that’s too full can wear down your physical reserves and make it impossible to get the rest you need. Emotional stress can lead to muscle tension and poor sleep habits. This leaves you open to more pain and fatigue. Take a careful look at your schedule and learn to cut out things that aren’t as crucial — remember, it’s okay to say “no” sometimes.
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep loss and poor sleep quality have been shown to bring on symptoms of fibromyalgia, or make existing fibromyalgia worse. Make sure that you have plenty of time set aside to get a good night’s sleep. Experiment with different sleeping positions, pillows, and other ways of getting comfortable to find what’s best for you. If you find your sleep disturbed by light, install dark curtains in your bedroom or consider sleeping with an eyemask. Allow your body as much nighttime sleep as it needs. If you’re still struggling, set aside some time each afternoon for a nap.
3. Use massage for relief of muscle pain
Sometimes a gentle massage can feel like a miracle for fibromyalgia pain. If you’re able, seek out a competent massage therapist who has worked with fibromyalgia patients before and is responsive to your needs. If you don’t have access to a therapist, or the cost is too much for regular visits, teach a close friend or spouse a few simple massage techniques that help to relieve your pain. Explore different massage oils that act as external analgesics, relieving pain.
In a pinch, you can also try a do-it-yourself “tennis ball massage.” Using a tennis ball or small therapy ball, lie down on a floor or other flat surface and place the ball in an area where the pain is most intense. Breathe deeply and slowly and allow the pressure of the ball to help loosen muscle tension. This technique is especially helpful if your back and shoulders tend to be frequent “fibromyalgia spots.”
4. Eliminate activities that frequently cause pain
If you notice that an activity you do regularly (such as swimming, typing on a computer, or walking for exercise) consistently leads to more pain later on, try to cut down or eliminate altogether the time you spend on that activity. Look for alternate activities, or experiment with new things (like a more supportive shoe or an ergonomic keyboard) to make the task easier on you.
5. Take a hot bath, or use a heating pad on problem areas
Often, heat is just what is needed to help relax and soothe the knotted muscles common in fibromyalgia. For a quick and easy heating bag, fill a sock or simple fabric pouch with plain (non-instant) white rice and tie or sew shut. This rice heating bag can be microwaved for 1-3 minutes to provide gentle, soothing heat.
If it’s a warm day, spend a few minutes outside, allowing the sun to gently heat sore muscles. You might be surprised by how much better you feel when you’re done!
6. Pay attention to your diet
Although every fibromyalgia patient is different, and what works for one might not work for another, diet can play a crucial role. Pay attention to what you eat and how you feel later. Does sugar lead to headaches later in the day? Does caffeine increase the tension in your body or make it difficult to sleep? If necessary, keep a food journal for a week or two recording what you eat and how you feel each day. Work to eliminate any problem foods from your diet, and make sure you’re getting plenty of fresh, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day as well. Dehydration increases headaches and muscle pain.
7. Get gentle exercise
Although exercising can feel daunting when you have fibromyalgia, moderate, gentle exercise is often very helpful at loosening tense muscles, boosting mood, and keeping your body strong. Experiment with low-impact methods of exercise, like walking, swimming, or moderate dance aerobics. Gentle yoga can provide enormous relief from daily fibromyalgia pain.
Whatever you do, never push yourself too hard. Increase activity slowly, and stick with an exercise regimen only if it helps to make things better, not worse.
8. Listen to your body
Above all, when dealing with fibromyalgia, it’s important to listen to your body. Acknowledge your limits, and don’t try to push yourself too hard. If you find yourself unable to participate in a physically demanding activity, it’s OK to gracefully bow out. Tuning into the needs of your body can help you figure out the best way to manage your fibromyalgia.
Although fibromyalgia can be difficult and often frustrating, it doesn’t have to stop you from living a wonderful, fulfilling life. Getting your pain under control and learning what works for you can help you find the balance you need to live a happy life, despite fibromyalgia.