An introduction to fibromyalgia treatments
Research has yet to discover the cause of fibromyalgia and because of this, doctors are not agreed on the best way to treat the problem. Treatment of fibromyalgia is focused on reducing troublesome symptoms.
In addition, people suffering from fibromyalgia experience different patterns of symptoms and as no single treatment will work for everyone, a number of treatments, methods or therapies may need to be used, changed or adapted depending on your response. This article describes the most common treatments used for fibromyalgia.
Many aspects of fibromyalgia resemble post-viral fatigue syndrome or ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) – a condition where the immune system is weak and unable to fight viruses such as those causing colds and flu. This is one reason why some people with fibromyalgia find that focusing on the immune system with herbs such as echinacea can be beneficial.
Diet and exercise
Many people reading these pages will be wondering what they can do to help themselves. Complementary practitioners believe that the fibromyalgia should, in the first instance, be treated with diet and lifestyle changes.
- Although exercise does not always help improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, studies have shown that, gentle, non-impact exercise such as gentle walks, swimming, cycling or yoga can improve symptoms especially muscle pain and stiffness. Go to our page on fibromyalgia self-help for more information.
- Naturopaths such as Alfred Vogel believe that certain foods can increase the tendency for acidity and pain in the body. Reducing consumption of these acid forming foods does not only help fibromyalgia, but many other conditions where inflammation plays a part. Go to our page on fibromyalgia diet for more information.
Treatment of fibromyalgia muscle pain
People with fibromyalgia almost always require treatment for muscle pain using painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication.
- Conventional medicines such as paracetamol, aspirin or the class of medicines known as NSAIDs (eg. ibuprofen) may be prescribed or bought from your pharmacy.
- If pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe codeine based medicines – a class of drugs known as opiates. Other drugs your doctor may consider using include anticonvulsant medicines, muscle relaxants and steroid injections.
- Many people with fibromyalgia prefer to avoid using synthetic pain-killing treatment and for them, licensed herbal medicines containing Arnica (used externally as a muscle rub) and Devil’s Claw can be used to treat muscle pain.
- Acupuncture may also be used to relieve pain. However, those with fibromyalgia may find this treatment difficult to tolerate because of increased muscle tenderness.
Treatment of low mood and depression
A doctor may prescribe anti-depressants to treat fibromyalgia although no signs of depression might be present as empirically, this class of medicines have been shown to work for some people.
However, many people with fibromyalgia do find that they become despondent, feel low or even depressed. This could be the direct result of feeling constantly unwell, but some researchers have found that fibromyalgia in itself, can cause low mood and depression because the condition affects the way the brain works.
There are 2 basic types of conventional anti-depressant treatment:
- Tricyclic antidepressants – eg. amitriptyline
- SSRIs – eg. fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine
Those suffering from the symptoms of low mood preferring to avoid the use of prescribed anti-depressants may opt for the use of licensed herbal remedies containing St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) available from your local healthfood store or pharmacy without prescription.
However, before using this herb, you should read the product information leaflet carefully as St. John’s wort may not be suitable for use by everybody. In particular, women on the oral contraceptive pill should not use St. John’s wort.
Treatments to help you sleep better
Poor sleep is a very common problem experienced by those suffering from fibromyalgia. Your doctor may prescribe a sleeping pill to help you sleep better at night. These medicines are usually benzodiazepines - a class of drugs known as ‘hypnotics’.
Before giving you a prescription for sleeping pills, many doctors will probably recommend that you try a herbal sleep remedy first. Over the years, these have become popular as alternatives to sleeping tablets. These licensed herbal medicines contain the herb valerian, combined with other herbs such as hops or passiflora. They are available without prescription at your local healthfood store, pharmacy or high street outlet.
Apart from using conventional and complementary medicines, other treatments may be used for the treatment of fibromylagia. These include:
- Psychotherapy including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – talking to a therapist can help you cope better with the problem and help you deal with the symptoms better and more positively
- Physiotherapy – helps improve muscle stiffness or weakness. An exercise programme may be recommended
- Other physical therapies such as Bowen therapy
- Support groups – it is helpful to know that there are other people suffering the same problem.