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Managing Fibromyalgia


Chronic pain can be a nuisance. Whether from a sports injury, poor posture, de-conditioning, or the aches that come from aging.

Managing chronic pain is often a complicated process that involves interdisciplinary care, including manual therapy, exercise, stress management and medications.

Even though the road to recovery may be long, most people who suffer from chronic pain do find some relief after a few weeks of consistent treatment. When you have a bad back, sore knee, or tight shoulders, it may not be too complicated to figure out what’s going on and how to fix the problem.

But what happens when pain is widespread, relentless, and doesn’t fit the standard medical model of injury? Your full body pain might be Fibromyalgia. This article will discuss what FM is, the problems that surround the diagnosis, and what you can do if you suffer from it.

What is Fibromyalgia?

You may or may not have heard about the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia (FM), which is defined as widespread body pain lasting longer than 3-months with accompanying symptoms of fatigue, poor sleep, and low mood.

FM is typically experienced by sufferers throughout the entire body and is not isolated to one specific area. One can develop FM after a physical trauma such as a car accident or surgery, after a time of intense emotional stress, or combination of both.

Most patients report that their pain initially presented in one area of the body, such as their lower back, neck, jaw, abdomen or pelvis, and gradually spreads to the rest of the body over a period of time. 

FM affects approximately 2-4% of the population but is most common in women. There is unfortunately no specific test available to diagnose FM. Instead, the diagnosis is made by healthcare providers based on a thorough history, physical examination and exclusion of other conditions that can create similar symptoms. 

What does it feel like?

FM sufferers report high levels of pain that can interfere with normal functioning. They are usually sensitive to touch, and often to lights, sounds or certain tastes. Things that we should be able to do without difficulty become very challenging for the FM patient.

What is more, FM sufferers describe being unable to engage in meaningful activities, which can lead to emotional suffering. Simple tasks like walking children to school, dancing at a wedding, even cooking dinner can be extremely problematic. Depression, anxiety, and different psychological stressors contribute to and augment the symptoms of FM.

Unfortunately, there is no single therapy that has been shown to work very well to reduce the symptoms of FM. Some medications can help reduce pain intensity but there is no miracle drug that can rid FM sufferers of their pain.

Strategies to Manage FM

The best strategy to manage FM is a combination of therapies that combine a mind/body, holistic approach to wellness. Here are some examples:

  • Gentle physical activities: tai chi, yoga, walking, aquatherapy etc.
  • Manual therapy: gentle massage, tailored therapeutic exercises
  • Dietary changes: increasing anti-inflammatory foods, limiting processed foods
  • Psychological counseling: developing coping skills, relationship counseling, creating boundaries, energy management, etc.
  • Improved sleep hygiene
  • Stress management: mindfulness, meditation, journaling, etc.

Developing strategies in the above-mentioned areas can help decrease pain sensitivity while increasing function. 

Scientists and clinicians alike also recommend that fibromyalgia sufferers desensitize themselves to pain by slowly and progressively returning to activities that bring them joy. This process of re-engaging in meaningful activities may take a long time so it’s important not to give up. 

Education is Key

Educating yourself on the mechanisms underlying chronic pain will improve your ability to manage pain in the long term.

An easy and effective way of educating yourself about your pain condition is through the Toronto Academic Pain Medicine Institute (TAPMI) online educational program. The program is delivered in plain English, easy to follow and, most importantly, 100% free. A link to the TAPMI online education and self-management program can be found on our website, here:

The road to health is not linear, there will be many ups and downs, good days and bad days. It is important to remember to take your recovery one day at a time and try not to be discouraged if you are having a flare up.  

Slow, steady and consistent efforts will help you manage pain while allowing you to gradually return to the activities that you love. Multiple small wins add up to big wins in the end.