Anyone who is living with fibromyalgia knows that it can be painful and frustrating. The symptoms of fibromyalgia include chronic and severe pain and tenderness in muscles, ligaments and tendons; neck and shoulder pain; sleep problems; anxiety and depression. Women account for more than 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia, which has no known cause or cure. The pain of fibromyalgia usually consists of aching or burning described as “head-to-toe” and muscle spasm. Pain can vary in severity from day to day and change location, becoming more severe in parts of the body that are used the most (i.e., neck, shoulders, and feet). In some people, it can be so intense that it interferes with the performance of even simple tasks, while in others it may cause only moderate discomfort.
Many healthcare providers are still prescribing potentially addictive pain medication for this condition despite research evidence that other nonpharmacological interventions work much better without the risk of side effects including addiction.
A new study validates what I’ve been recommending for years for my patients with fibromyalgia. Regular walks and stretching exercises can help ease the chronic, depressing pain of fibromyalgia. As one study found effective help can be as simple as getting regular exercise in a heated swimming pool. The study was conducted by the University of Extremadura in Spain and the University of Evora, Portugal. Please see a brief summary of the findings below.
The researchers found that the long-term aquatic exercise helped reduce fibromyalgia symptoms and improved the women’s health-related quality of life. In an earlier study, the same researchers found that a short-term exercise program helped ease symptoms, but pain returned when patients completed the exercise regimen. “The addition of an aquatic exercise program to the usual care for fibromyalgia in women is cost-effective in terms of both health care costs and societal costs,” and “appropriate aquatic exercise is a good health investment,” the researchers wrote.
If medication is needed opiates are proven to be counter-indicated. Many pain management specialists use SSRIs like Prozac, Effexor, Lexapro, or Celexa, which improve mood as well as help relieve pain, reduce fatigue and improve sleep problems. There have been reports about SSRIs being helpful for some types of neuropathic pain symptoms that many people with fibromyalgia experience. Some studies also suggest that using an SSRI and a tricyclic antidepressant (such as amitriptyline) together may be more successful at breaking the cycle of pain, depression, and sleep problems caused by fibromyalgia than using just either one alone.