Self-Help Strategies and Lifestyle Changes
When the symptoms of fibromyalgia seem overwhelming or worse than usual, there are self-help methods to ease your discomfort and make you feel better about yourself. Making certain lifestyle changes will also give you a greater sense of control. Below are just a few examples of self-help strategies you may want to incorporate into your daily care.
Soothing Sore Muscles
- Acupressure: This techniques involves applying gentle pressure on the painful knots in your muscles called trigger points. Usually you can feel these knots, especially when they get large and troublesome. It is important to avoid pressing too hard on the trigger point nodule, because this can cause trauma to the muscle and lead to the development of more trigger points. The pressure should only produce a mild discomfort, but not to the point of pain. You can use your finger, or for hard-to-reach locations, a Thera Cane device can be helpful. Apply gentle pressure for 10 to 15 seconds. You should feel the discomfort melt away, or at least reduce some. Avoid working on one area too long because it can irritate the muscle. Instead, move the cane or your finger to other knots. Regularly applying this technique should reduce the size of your trigger point knots everywhere. The picture to the right shows the use of a Thera Cane, a handy aid that can be purchased at www.theracane.net. If you can’t afford a Thera Cane, try a tennis ball instead. Place it between you and a wall, or lie down on it to target specific trigger points on your back side.
- Hot Water: A shower, hot tub or bath can ease stiffness in the morning and pain before bedtime. You can even use the soothing heat to loosen up your muscles so they respond better to gentle stretching or acupressure.1
- Conserve Energy: Fatigue is the second worse symptom of fibromyalgia. You need to learn to set limits, reduce stress, and manage your time more effectively. Useful articles to help you accomplish these self-management skills (and many others) are available online for free. Visit our Resources Links section for practical coping articles and online courses offered by Bruce Campbell, Ph.D.
- Move Wisely: Learn ergonomic ways to do tasks to minimize the strain on your muscles and conserve energy. For example, test the weight of grocery bags before you just grab them out of your car trunk. A few extra trips may avert a muscle sprain on top of your widespread pain. Also, don’t hesitate to prop yourself up with pillows to help lessen the strain of gravity on your achy body.
- Rest Breaks: Lie down and zone out two to three times a day for about 10 minutes to recharge your batteries and quiet down the chatter in your brain.
- Work with Your Clock: You have an area in your brain called your master clock. It controls when the sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin, peaks in the evening (usually around 10 p.m.). And just like clock-work, your body’s wake-promoting substances are released in the morning around 6 a.m. Ideally, you want to focus on sleep between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
- Keep the Same Schedule: Maintaining a consistent bedtime schedule should help optimize the quality of your sleep. Better sleep quality is tied to reduced pain and improved mood in people with fibromyalgia.2
What to Avoid
- Cold Drafts: Just as moist heat helps your muscles relax, cool drafty air tends to cause them to tense up.
- Repetitive Motions: Using the same muscle groups to perform repetitive tasks or placing persistent strain on your postural muscles will make these areas hurt more. When muscles ache, studies show that they are easier to overload, which leads to more pain.3
- Leaning Forward: Working with your arms out in front of you or leaning over a computer keyboard may amplify your overall pain.4 It can also cause strain on your neck, shoulder, and back muscles. Try to find more ergonomic ways to do tasks that will allow you to maintain an upright posture and prevent overworked muscles from developing painful trigger points.
- Unsettling Foods: Irritable stomach and bowel are common enemies to people with fibromyalgia. If you notice that certain foods in your diet make these symptoms worse, try avoiding them, one at a time, to see if you feel better.
- Stress: This word is often overused as the scapegoat for all that ails you. Even though it does not cause fibromyalgia, added mental and physical stress can drain you of energy and make it harder to cope with the pain.
- Dress for Fibro: Wear loose-fitting clothes and comfortable shoes. Fashionable attire may look terrific on you, but it is how you feel that really counts.
- Living Aids: Check out our section on fibromyalgia friendly living aids and incorporate some of the suggestions into your everyday life to ease your symptoms.
- Remain Calm: If you notice your symptoms are getting worse, the best thing you can do is remain calm and tell yourself not to panic.5 You have been through the ups and downs of fibromyalgia before, so draw on the self-help approaches that have pulled you through past flares-ups.
- Avoid Comparisons: It is natural for people to compare their abilities now with what they could do before fibromyalgia came knocking. But these types of comparisons will not change anything, and they can really bring you down and hurt your self-esteem.
- Be Optimistic: Keeping an optimistic outlook is a 24/7 job. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep and if you find your mood sliding, talk to your doctor about treatment.