A balanced plan for treating fibromyalgia should include both drug and nondrug therapies. Exercise, in particular, has been touted as a nondrug treatment for fibromyalgia. If approached the wrong way, however, exercise can cause pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia to flare. Be cautious of healthcare providers who tell you that exercise is the key to treating your fibromyalgia (they are not being realistic), but if done properly, exercise can help you stay fit and maintain a better quality of life. Similarly, a well-planned diet with the right nutritional supplements will help optimize your health.
Is there a diet that will “cure” fibromyalgia? No. However, a diet full of fruits and vegetables may supply your body with additional antioxidants and nutrients like malic acid found in apples, and calcium found in deep green vegetables. Antioxidents are considered to be beneficial for minimizing the destructive effects that can occur in tissues when the body generates certain reactive chemicals, called free radicals. An excess of free radicals is harmful to the tissues, which is likely why researchers have discovered that reduced antioxidant protection corresponds to greater muscle pain, and increased fatigue levels.
Doctors recommend that you try to minimize the amounts of preservatives or chemicals that you consume in your diet. This is because your body will require more antioxidants to clear them from your system, and many patients are chemically sensitive. Moreover, there are certain chemicals in foods that tend to cause more problems or magnify fibromyalgia symptoms, such as aspartame, commonly known on the supermarket shelf as Equal or NutraSweet.
In addition to a healthy diet, several vitamins and nutritional supplements have been found to be beneficial for a variety of chemical imbalances to help you improve the quality of your life. For example, melatonin is known to improve the quality of your sleep, although it may not be a strong enough hypnotic to get you to sleep. Vinpocetine, a substance extracted from the periwinkle plant, has been known for years to improve brain function. Supplements also can help with gastrointestinal distress, muscle function, fibro-fog, and fatigue.
Exercise will help you stay functional while giving you that positive mental boost. It is also known to decrease anxiety and depression, which can negatively impact the way you cope with your symptoms. Doctors agree that aerobic exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles and surrounding tissues to help nourish them. It also improves circulation, regulates blood pressure and body weight, and strengthens the heart, among other benefits. While this is all well and good, how will you face the challenge of beginning an exercise program without throwing your body into a flare up?
You need to take a mindful approach of what you are physically doing:
- Work with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any exercise program
- Avoid intense activity
- Think “moderate” exercise
- Understand your limitations
- Choose activities you can do and enjoy doing
- Start slowly in short increments of activity coupled with rest and build up slowly
- Stretch properly before each activity
In addition, there are several therapies involving massage, yoga, and self-help aids to ease soreness that may arise from exercise.
Making even small changes in your day-to-day living, working, and functioning can make positive improvements. Fibromyalgia Network discusses self-help aids in ongoing articles recommended to us by fibromyalgia patients. Look for aids that take the strain off your body and put you more at ease. Adapt slowly and keep your mind open to new possibilities. You can be surprised at what can work for you. A sampling of suggestions are listed below.
Relax and Sleep
Do you wake up feeling like you got run over by that Mack truck? Good sleep is a key to feeling more refreshed tomorrow. Fibromyalgia patients tell us that you don’t have to spend a fortune on a new mattress to get snuggled and comfortable. A thick foam or feather topper or eggcrate mattress overlay can make a world of difference without costing you an arm or a leg. Just think warm and soft for sleep, or relaxing. Other suggestions include:
- heated mattress pad
- body pillow
- contour memory foam head & neck pillow
- soft pillows for sleeping or other support
- fluffy socks for cold feet
- electric blankets
Hot and Cold Therapy
While most fibromyalgia patients prefer warm therapies, some choose the comfort they receive from cold treatments. Either way, various products can target warmth or coolness to virtually any body part. If you don’t have access to a hot tub, then a warm bath, or hot shower with a sitting stool can be very accommodating. If you don’t have a fancy cold pack, a bag of frozen peas can contour and cool.
- hot patches
- heating cream, odor free
- Epsom salt for bath or feet
- gel freezer packs
- Bed Buddy reusable, microwavable wraps,
- hot water inflatable spa
Sometimes a little gel or soothing cream can target that irritating burn, itch, or pain of sensitive skin. Look around your favorite drug store for scentless topicals. Ask your pharmacist about over-the-counter products that can provide you some relief. Or talk with your doctor about prescription medications that are applied topically.
- Thera-gesic or Sombra heating cream, gel, or roll on
- Salonpas over-the-counter pain relief patches
- analgesic patches or or creams (may contains lidocaine or anti-inflammatory medicines)
- various cooling gels or creams
- Preparation H Ointment or Lanacaine anti-itch products
- generic benzocaine skin products for a numbing effect
- over the counter hydrocortisone cream can also soothe the itch and other skin irritations
- Smooth on your skin some corn starch on hot nights
Comforts of Home
Look around your house and see what’s causing you anguish, then think about making your life easier, safer, and more supportive. These comforts don’t have to be expensive, just accommodating to your needs. Examples include:
- a comfortable stool in the kitchen for sitting
- massage or heated seat cushions for home or car
- a recliner for whole body support
- sole inserts for shoes and slippers
- lumbar support pillows for driving and sitting
- toilet seat riser
- shower seat and extension hose/spray
- back or neck brace
- overstuffed furniture (you can never have too much cushiony support)
- loose snugly clothing