Fibromyalgia: Dealing with the pain.

Pain is one of the most debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia and often is a major contributor to the fatigue and sleeplessness that become part of a vicious cycle.  More pain, less sleep, less sleep, more pain. The more tired you are the less able to you are mentally tolerate the pain, thus the more focus it gets and the worse you feel.  The less you sleep the more tired you are and the more pain you feel and you get where I’m going yeah? It sucks. While there are a number of vicious cycles in the pain of fibromyalgia there are also a number of ways to break those cycles and reverse the effect; by getting better sleep you’ll have less pain.  By increasing your energy levels you have better pain tolerance. One of the major ones that are a key component to improvement is stress management. I’ll talk about more of these sorts of aspects and approaches in further posts but for today I want to talk about what the pain feels like for someone with fibromyalgia and talk about a number of drug free approaches because pain killers are pain killers and the more you take, the less effective they are.  Anyone who has had this condition for an extended amount of time knows this all too well. I’ll talk about pharmaceutical approaches another time but it’s pretty fair to say that most doctors will have you trialling some sort of drug and you’ll find it doesn’t do much anyway.

I can’t say exactly what it feels like for everyone, I know that ‘widespread pain’ and ‘tenderpoints’ are the most commonly documented, but I will tell you about the pain I have and have had previously.   For me the pain actually started in my legs. I had pain very similar to shin splints but without any physical evidence that I had shin splints. I had physio appointments, scans, all the rest of it but nothing showed up and this pain in my legs was so bad that sometimes I could barely walk.  It felt like I was trying to walk on broken legs. In the early days I also had really bad joint pain in my hands upon waking so the first thing a doctor did was check for rheumatoid arthritis (which again tests showed negative for). Over time, pain started to appear in other parts of my body as well.  All of my joints, my bones and muscles. It felt like the worst flu I have ever experienced where everything hurts. I was sensitive to touch, and eventually became sensitive to everything from smell to lights. Going outside without sunglasses on was excruciating. It became all encompassing and everything hurt all of the time to the point I couldn’t think straight.  Brain fog became a daily occurance (being unable to think clearly and feeling like everything is fuzzy in my head), along with a fatigue that left me useless and unable to complete even simple tasks. My social life disappeared and eventually so did my career.

For me one of the first drugs that a doctor tried me on was Endep and I just felt like a zombie. No relief from the pain, but the brain fog was all of the time.  In some ways I am glad that pharmaceuticals didn’t work for me. It meant that I had to search harder, dig deeper and find better answers. Which I did.

One of the best things I ever did (and I thoroughly recommend this to everyone) is I went to a dietician who put me on an elimination diet.  Through doing that I realised that I was sensitive to a number of foods including gluten, dairy, garlic and onion and nightshades. My diet changed dramatically and after that so did my pain levels.  Going gluten free is possibly the biggest thing that has worked for me and it took a long time to really figure that out because the joint pain from gluten (for me), didn’t happen immediately. Sometimes I would react up to two days later!

Changing your diet is my number one suggestion for anyone who wants to get their life back and get their pain managed.  Food can either be your best form of medicine or your slowest form of poison (that’s a quote but I can’t remember who said it).  It’s well worth the hard work it takes to go through the diet and find out your food enemies.

The next thing I really recommend is talking to a naturopath and working together with your doctor to find out if you’re low in any of your vitamins and minerals.  I say work with a naturopath as well because often a GP will look at the levels on the results and say ‘that’s fine’ but a naturopath looks through a different lense.  One is looking at disease and the other is looking for prevention of disease and creating health. If you have fibromyalgia it is highly likely that that threshold for symptoms will be different for you than the next person. So a person with a vitamin D level around 50 who doesn’t have fibromyalgia may not have any symptoms or be considered deficient, however I know that for me unless my levels are sitting above 100 then I have symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.  This is the same for zinc, magnesium and iodine to name just a few. Do NOT try and do this alone and don’t give up if the first doctor tells you you’re mad. A naturopath can be a great advocate and help you to get the right tests and get your levels up.

Following that you want to reduce anything that is taking a toll on your body.  Toxins in your environment (cleaning products, perfumes, scented candles, room sprays, all these need to be replaced with more natural options).  The reasoning behind this is that your body is already fighting. If you have fibromyalgia your body is fighting to regain its health every single moment of every single day so anything you can do to reduce the strain it is under is a good thing.   

I will cover a few more different approaches in further posts but in terms of drug free pain management options that you can try here is another list:

  • Meditation

  • Massage

  • Yoga

  • Thai chi

  • TENS (tens machines are now available in chemists and send little electrical currents through your body distracting it from pain).

  • Heat packs (wheat, hot water bottles, deep heat instant patches)

  • Lotions/creams (things like deep heat or pain away are great)

  • Essential oils (lavender for stress, eucalyptus and menthol for pain)

  • Magnesium supplements (there is one called fibroplex - talk to your naturopath)

  • Curcumin

  • Hypnosis (I use an app called pain relief hypnosis, available on the app store it’s great).

  • Epsom salt & Magnesium Chloride flakes for the bath

  • Hot showers/bath

  • Magnesium sprays

  • Wool doonas (having a heavy wool doona can help with pain management).

  • Thermal clothing (keeping my legs warm helps me a LOT)

  • Buteyko Breathing (a breathing technique that helps with stress and pain management)

These are just a few of the ones that I have tried.  My advice is to go through a list like this when your pain is minimal and see where you can find alternative to using pain killers.  This way you are way more likely to get relief when the pain is really bad.

I hope this has helped.  If you have other suggestions that you have tried that have helped you I would love to know.  Comment below or send me an email and I will update the post.