Managing Fibromyalgia

Niamh O’Sullivan, Physical Therapist, Tralee

Once diagnosis has been established and an appropriate medical treatment plan is being
followed, it is important that the Fibromyalgia sufferer makes lifestyle changes essential
for improvement in the condition. Given that Fibromyalgia can involve widespread and
chronic pain with low energy and sleep disorders, it is easy to understand how people
may develop a negative attitude towards their state of health. The following changes will
contribute to the successful management of your Fibromyalgia;

• Adherence to an appropriate exercise programme is very important. People tend to
be apprehensive as regards taking exercise due to pain and fear of causing a flare.
However, it must be understood that Fibromyalgia is a muscle endurance disorder.
Thus, people generally have a low muscle endurance and require aerobic exercise to
improve. However if introduced too early in the treatment programme, exercise may
cause further deterioration in the condition. Causative and aggravating factors must
be identified and controlled.

• Ensure that before embarking on an exercise programme, that it is with medical
approval and then to be designed by a health professional who has a thorough
understanding of Fibromyalgia.

• The frequency, intensity and type of exercise must be appropriate. Resistance exercise,
e.g. lifting weights is not recommended, as with Fibromyalgia, the strength of the
muscles is usually normal, while the endurance capability is low. Adopting a ‘cumulative’
exercise approach generally works best. Short bouts of exercise at a low intensity
usually improve muscle endurance, while reducing risk of flair/fatigue.

• Variety is best. Walking, stationary bike, aqua exercises are all good modes of exercise.
Beware of overuse and unfamiliar activity. Start slowly and listen to your body. Monitor
and evaluate your progress. Too much too soon will mean an extended lay off period
until flare of symptoms recedes again.

• Set short and long term goals that are realistic and achievable. Strive to improve
your condition as best you can. Remember the management of your Fibromyalgia is
predominantly your responsibility. It will be worth it!

There are various aspects in the treatment and management of Fibromyalgia.

The following are just some of those:


• Exercise –

Can be beneficial in improving fitness levels and in reducing pain. It also helps reduce stress and can have a calming effect. It is important to choose an exercise you enjoy, e.g. walking, exercise in the water or cycling. Start off with short sessions and gradually increase the time or level of exercise, e.g. set out to do a 10 minute walk for one week and increase this by 2 minutes the second week. Be consistent with the exercise, i.e. on good days don’t over do it and on bad days try to do a little exercise. Keep a diary of the exercise you do every day and set goals for yourself at the start of every week. Make sure these goals are realistic.


• Relaxation Therapy –

Techniques include focussed breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation. Relaxation can help reduce stress and pain. It can also help reduce sleeplessness and fatigue. It helps to improve mood and can give a feeling of general well-being.

• Support –

Talking to health professionals such as your gp , physiotherapist,
occupational therapist or counsellor may be beneficial. They will be
able to advise you on the various aspects of Fibromyalgia and
advise on the appropriate management. Joining a Fibromyalgia
support group may also be helpful.