Fibromyalgia and Lifestyle Changes
Many studies have shown that exercise is the most effective component in managing fibromyalgia, and fibromyalgia patients must expect to take part in a long-term exercise program. Physical activity prevents muscle wasting, increases well-being, and, over time, reduces fatigue and pain. Many studies have also demonstrated that exercise can improve physical and emotional function, as well as reduce symptoms, including pain. Programs often combine aerobic, strength-training, and flexibility exercises with self-management education. Some studies have shown improvements lasting for up to 9 months after the exercise program ends. It is important, however, to consult a health care provider before beginning a new exercise program.
The basic approach used for fibromyalgia is called graded exercise. Graded exercise means you slowly increase the amount of your physical activity.
In general, graded exercise involves:
- A very gradual program of activity, beginning with mild exercise and building in intensity over time.
- Stretching exercises before working out. A daily stretching routine can help relax tense muscles and prevent soreness.
- Walking, swimming, and using equipment such as treadmills or stationary bikes. Swimming and water therapy are good because they don’t require putting weight on the joints.
Establishing Regular Sleep Routines
Sleep is essential, particularly because sleep disruptions worsen pain. Many patients with fibromyalgia have trouble getting a restful and healing night’s sleep. Those who are unable to sleep consistently have little improvement in symptoms. Swing shift work, for example, is extremely hard on fibromyalgia patients. Poor sleep habits can add to sleep problems. Tips for good sleep habits include:
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol 4 – 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking fluids right before bedtime so that you do not have to wake up to urinate.
- Avoid exercising 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime. A light snack, however, may help you sleep.
- Avoid naps, especially in the evening or late afternoon.
- Establish a regular time for going to bed and getting up in the morning. Maintain this schedule even on weekends and during vacations.
- If you are unable to fall asleep after 15 or 20 minutes, go into another room and start a quiet activity. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.
- Minimize light and maintain a comfortable, moderate temperature in the bedroom. Keep the bedroom well ventilated.
- Use the bed only for sleep and sexual relations.
Fibromyalgia patients should maintain a healthy diet low in animal fat and high in fiber, with plenty of whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Although everyone should be careful about calories from fats, fibromyalgia patients in particular should be very picky about what they eat as this can have a huge effect on how they feel from day to day.
Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
A vegan diet has no meat, dairy, or eggs and includes uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts, and germinated seeds. The actual benefit of various vegetarian diets remains unproven. However, it is worth seeking the advice of a nutritionist in order to explore the benefits of changing your diet.
Herbs and Supplements
Generally, manufacturers of herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not need approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell their products. Just like a drug, herbs and supplements can affect the body’s chemistry, and therefore have the potential to produce side effects that may be harmful. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even deadly side effects from herbal products. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.
Stress Reduction Techniques
Relaxation and stress-reduction techniques are proving to be helpful in managing chronic pain. Evidence shows that people with fibromyalgia have a more stressful response to daily conflicts and encounters than those without the disorder. Several relaxation and stress-reduction techniques may be helpful in managing chronic pain, including:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Massage therapy
- Muscle relaxation techniques
Because of the difficulties in treating fibromyalgia, many patients seek alternative therapies. Although some studies have reported a benefit from these treatments, there is not enough evidence to recommend them. In one analysis, evidence was weakest on the advantages of so-called manipulative approaches, such as chiropractic treatments.