What is it?
Fibromyalgia is a common health problem in which individuals experience chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) classification criteria for fibromyalgia diagnosis requires a history of at least three months of widespread pain which is experienced in particular tender point places; the pain is most commonly located in soft tissue.
Unfortunately, there is no test to detect fibromyalgia; diagnosis is the result of ruling out other health problems through imaging and other diagnostic testing protocols. There is currently no cure for the disease, which places the current treatment protocol focus on managing symptoms and self-care.
Fibromyalgia is said to affect 2-4% of the adult population and females are more likely to have the disease than men.
What do people experience?
- Chronic, widespread pain
- Tenderness to touch or pressure affecting muscles and sometimes joints
- Fatigue/nonrestorative sleep
- Cognitive dysfunction (concentration issues, memory/recall problems)
- Somatic symptoms (irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, migraines)
- Mood disorders (depression/anxiety)
Symptoms can vary in intensity between individuals, and there may be periods of time where symptoms are more intense than others.
Risk factors for discomfort include:
- Poor fitting or worn out footwear
- Improper footwear for activity
- High impact exercise
- Heavy weight or intensity of exercise during periods of heightened symptoms
- Being overweight or obese may increase the pressure placed on your feet and the forces being transmitted through your joints
- Life stress and worry (anxiety) have been shown to worsen symptoms
What can you do to feel better today?
You can still live a happy, healthy life by taking active, daily measures to manage your fibromyalgia pain.
It’s important to identify triggers in daily activities that increase the severity of your individual symptoms. Proper identification and management of these factors is crucial to minimizing flare-ups, which ultimately results in an decreases in pain levels.
It is important to maintain an active and enjoyable lifestyle when living with fibromyalgia. Mild to moderate intensity, low impact exercise is commonly recommended to maintain mobility and activity levels. When implementing new activity into your daily routine, it is important to remember that you want to take a progressive approach. Start off at a comfortable activity level and slowly progress over time in order to limit or avoid post exercise pain. Always consult with the appropriate heath care professional before starting a new exercise program.
Ensue that you are sleeping enough throughout the night and that you have a well established bed time. Make time to relax or take time for yourself at some point during the day in order to minimize fatigue. Doing so will allow you to stay physically and mentally focused and minimize the feeling of being exhausted at the end of the day. Proper pacing techniques can be implemented within the work and home environment to help you manage your time more effectively.
If you haven’t done so by now, educate yourself about the disease. Utilize healthcare professionals and materials, like books and (verified) websites, which can help with pain management.
What are my options for treatment? Who can help?
There are numerous treatment options available for fibromyalgia. Treatment focus on both pharmacological and non-pharmacological aspects and are mainly focused on pain management, restorative sleep and maintaining activity.
From the pharmacological aspect, the goal of medication is usually focused on decreasing the level of pain or increasing the quality of sleep. Keep in mind that these two areas should be treated separately. Your family physician will be more than happy to discuss appropriate medications or lifestyle alterations and address any additional questions you may have.
In respect to the non-pharmacological treatment options, exercise, relaxation, and lifestyle management are the key focus. Choosing the proper exercise program is crucial to the management of symptoms. Exercise prescription, relaxation techniques and pain management can be discussed with physiotherapists, kinesiologists, pedorthists, and other health care professionals.
Occupational therapists can help with lifestyle and household modifications to assist with activities of daily living while minimizing fatigue and other triggers.
Focusing on the foot, pedorthists are rigorously trained in the assessment and treatment of various different pathologies and diseases, including fibromyalgia. Your pedorthist can help with concerns relating to the foot and lower extremity. This can come in the form of footwear prescription or modification, custom foot orthotics or off-the-shelf orthoses, or range of motion exercise and stretching techniques to make sure that you can maintain your activity level effectively.
Currently, there is little known about the prevention of fibromyalgia because of its unknown causes. There are, however, a number of measures that can be taken to limit flare-ups and manage your symptoms.
- One of the most beneficial factors when living with fibromyalgia is educating both yourself and the individuals around you about your condition. Doing this will allow for a better understanding of the factors which influence the flare-up of symptoms. Realizing what causes these flare-ups will allow you to limit your susceptibility to these situations or circumstances. Learning about your condition will allow you to be proactive when it comes to preventing symptoms and coping with pain.
- Footwear is an important ASPECT to consider. Properly fitted shoes are vital in the prevention of foot pain. The proper shoe selection (given your activity), can make a substantial difference. Width, length, depth, level of support, and cushion are all factors to consider. Consult your pedorthist for more information.
- Foot orthotics can play a pivotal role in the prevention of foot discomfort. With appropriate support and cushion for the arches of your feet, research has shown the custom foot orthoses are effective at increasing overall function of individuals with fibromyalgia.
- Modifying or limiting activities that cause discomfort can be an effective way to reduce symptoms. Low impact exercises such as riding a bike, swimming, or using an elliptical machine instead of running can help to limit discomfort.
Staying active with a plan
Daily discomfort can be managed – and in many cases, improved – with moderate intensity, low impact exercise. During times of heightened symptoms or flare-ups, low intensity, range of motion exercises may help limit pain and discomfort. High impact and high intensity exercises should be limited when beginning an exercise program. In order to limit and control pain and soreness, progression should be slow and steady with small incremental changes along the way. Appropriate warm up and cool down should always be performed before and after exercise to ensure optimal muscle function.
If you are new to exercise or have questions regarding appropriate exercise selection, consult with your kinesiologist or physiotherapist.