Outwitting the pain of fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia affects one in 50 Americans. If not managed properly, over time it can ruin relationships and wrecks lives.

Because the root cause is unknown there is yet to be a cure. Many health care providers do their best to help sufferers manage the symptoms of this elusive disease.

The best approach until we know more is to mitigate the pain while outwitting the other symptoms by reducing known triggers. Here, we’ll look at ways to do just that.

Potential causes

The root cause of fibromyalgia is still a mystery. And since it is a term applied to non-specific chronic pain at different locations on the body, it is hard to pin down. Theories of links to viruses and infections, emotional disorders associated with decreased opioid receptor activity, and physical trauma are in abundance. Some suggest fibromyalgia to be the body’s reaction to stress or its abnormal response to it. And like classic migraine sufferers, those with fibromyalgia are sensitive to sounds, an indication of a possible abnormality in sensory processing by the central nervous system.

Research by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) has shown that people with fibromyalgia have reduced blood flow to parts of the brain that normally help the body deal with pain.

The pain of fibromyalgia

The symptoms of fibromyalgia include painful tender points at nearly a dozen places on the body, generalized body and joint aches and fatigue. The pain of these symptoms can be in various places spread over the body, including the legs, hips, shoulders, neck and back.

Sufferers often describe their aches and pains like a deep fatigue after a tough workout. Twitching, burning and throbbing muscles and stabbing pain are familiar descriptions. And while sleep and exercise are good for easing and reducing symptoms, the symptoms themselves make it difficult to sleep and exercise. It’s a catch-22.

Tips for outwitting symptoms

While there are a handful of fibromyalgia symptoms, none of them are unique to this disease. This is good news because you can address the prevention of these symptoms and reduction of symptomatic severity — what I call, “outwitting” symptoms — by addressing each one in terms of their common triggers. And most of the symptoms lead to pain. Let’s look at some of the best ways to outwit symptoms.

Reduce stress – Stress is a slow killer. It seizes the body, constricts blood flow, tenses muscles, causes foggy memory, irritable bowel and poor digestion, insomnia and poor eating and drinking habits. Stress causes pain and exasperates the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Reducing stress can, in turn, reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia, and this can be accomplished with methods like Emotional Freedom Technique, Sedona Method, Mindfulness Meditation, self-hypnosis, exercise, sleep and relaxation. I offer many different stress reduction tips here and a video on stress-relief breathing here.

Reduce inflammation – Inflammation is a silent killer, responsible for many diseases including stroke, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, migraines, arthritis and fibromyalgia. There are many causes of inflammation, including diet (packaged foods, omega-6 fatty acids, sugar, caffeine and alcohol), lack of sleep, stress, injury and environmental factors. You can reduce inflammation by getting ample sleep (see below), eating organic, whole foods, consuming thermogenic spices (e.g., ginger, turmeric and garlic), meditating and exercising. Check out this article I wrote on inflammation to learn more.

Engage in low-impact exercise – While it seems counter-intuitive because with fibromyalgia the body is already inflamed and in pain, exercising every day is an important method for symptomatic relief. Low-intensity exercises like walking, biking, water aerobics, tai chi and yoga can be the perfect way to increase blood flow, reduce muscle contraction and stiffness, reduce stress and increase those feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. You can watch a video on simple tai chi movements here and here. And if you’re up for it, you can learn about a more vigorous method here.

Get regular sound sleep – Sleep is essential to everyone, no matter if they are healthy or ill. And if you suffer from a pain disease like fibromyalgia, sleep is even more important, yet hard to get. When your body is in pain, it hurts to sleep on it and the pain wakes you up. But without sleep, your body can’t efficiently repair itself, produce more serotonin and metabolize stress hormones. Lack of sleep also causes pain. Learn more about the pain-sleep connection here, and how to get your best sleep ever here.

Practice qigong – Qigong is an ancient Chinese health practice that combines relaxation, meditation, visualization, movement and breathing. Studies found that practicing qigong daily for 6-8 weeks produces improvements in the core symptoms of fibromyalgia, including pain, sleep, impact and physical and mental function. Read more about qigong and fibromyalgia here, and watch a qigong video here.

Meditate daily – Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, which can help decrease pain. It relaxes the central nervous system, which helps decrease pain. It slows breathing and the thought process, which helps clear mental and emotional issues to help ease pain. And it relaxes the body to induce sleep. It is in deep sleep that the body relaxes and repairs, which is needed to reduce and prevent pain and inflammation. Read more about meditation here.

Take supplements – Fibromyalgia decreases mood, causes stress and can lead to depression and a sense of despair. There are several supplements that naturally help reduce inflammation and pain while also elevating mood. These include omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), feverfew, St. John’s wort, Sam-e and drinking chamomile tea can relax.

You can read more about natural fibromyalgia pain-relief methods here. And whatever you do, don’t let the painful symptoms of fibromyalgia keep you down. Even if you can’t prevent the disease because you don’t know its origin, you can outwit its symptoms — including pain — and increase your quality of life.

Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.