As we head into a new season, the weather is changing. For the nearly 5 million people in the United States with Fibromyalgia, they might experience a different kind of heat or cold – the burning pain that typically comes along with this diagnosis.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that can cause a wide range of symptoms throughout the body. It’s usually diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50, and 80% to 90% of the people affected are women.
The most common symptoms are:
- chronic pain all over the body
- memory problems
- sleep disturbances
- depression or anxiety
How Does Physical Therapy Help?
Because of the wide range of symptoms, fibromyalgia can be a debilitating condition. It is not uncommon for people to begin avoiding activities altogether because of pain and fatigue. This begins a cycle of deconditioning that not only impacts the person’s overall health but also makes the symptoms of fibromyalgia worse. The cause of fibromyalgia is currently unknown and there is no cure, so physical therapy treatments are designed to reduce and manage the symptoms. This requires a multi-pronged approach.
Common treatments include:
Education The first step in treating fibromyalgia is often helping people understand what’s going on, and what they can do about it. Research has shown that people who are knowledgeable about their condition have better outcomes, more confidence, and cope better.
Decrease Pain and Improve Range of Motion Physical therapists are movement experts with a lot of tools and techniques to help with the pain and stiffness caused by fibromyalgia. A PT might use gentle manual therapy or massage, prescribe specific stretches, or do a simple yoga routine. They might also use modalities like electrical stimulation, biofeedback, or in states where it is allowed dry needling. Exercise once patients understand the condition and are able to move a little better with less pain, exercise often enters the treatment picture. Research has shown that low to moderate-intensity aerobic exercises like walking, biking, or swimming are important in managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Aquatic therapy is well-loved by patients because the buoyancy of the water decreases the stress on the joints and the warm water helps relax stiffness in the muscles. This will help reduce muscle spasms increasing range of motion and flexibility, which tends to be more difficult with land-based therapy. While in the pool your body will be supported by the water, reducing the chance of balance loss. It can help with pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, depression, and more.
Physical therapists and patients work together to find the right type of exercise and the right intensity to best manage fibromyalgia. They often have to start slow and make adjustments along the way. Each physical therapy session is tailored to the needs of the patient and will vary depending on the severity of their symptoms. Despite there still being no cure for fibromyalgia, physical therapists can help with pain management, strength, mobility, fatigue, and function to help patients find relief from their symptoms.