Learning, Understanding, Coping

The benefits of exercise were enhanced when the exercises were combined with education about chronic pain management and other ways to live better. Women with fibromyalgia who participated in the Arthritis Foundation’s Fibromyalgia Self-Help Course and also exercised showed more improvement in physical function than those who did either alone. The women were also better able to function socially and emotionally.

“The key components of these programs are to really validate the patient’s symptoms,” says Daniel Clauw, MD, a rheumatologist and professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a leading researcher on fibromyalgia pain. Just giving their pain a name and letting them know that doctors now have a reasonable understanding of what causes it goes a long way toward healing, he says.

“Education programs also help people understand that fibromyalgia is a widespread pain disorder, so they don’t need a new subspecialist each time a pain pops up in a different area, such as their face or back,” Dr. Clauw says.

According to Alex J. Zautra, PhD, professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe, patients’ ability to deal better with their condition is a testament to these programs’ ability to improve patients’ resilience.

“Fibromyalgia patients who have found a way to be resilient share their wisdom with those still searching for answers. People showing one another the way to succeed is the core principle of self-help,” says Zautra. The social exchanges also increase the capacity for people in chronic pain to sustain a good life. “It begins with the fundamental understanding that people can and will be resilient in the face of even the most extraordinary hardships – especially with a little help from their friends,” he says.

Giving Acupuncture a Shot

Acupuncture can help provide fibromyalgia pain relief, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In one study, 50 people with fibromyalgia received either true acupuncture or simulated acupuncture every two to four days throughout a period of three weeks, for a total of six sessions.

People who received acupuncture showed the greatest improvements in anxiety and fatigue, the study showed. They did not report an increased level of activity or physical functioning; however, the study authors noted they were not looking for that in the study, and they did not encourage participants to change behaviors.

Acupuncture may be worth a shot, Dr. Crofford notes. “The studies have been mixed, but I still would consider it,” she says. “If you feel better on a treatment such as acupuncture and worse off it, that means it’s working for you, and that’s okay.”

Rubbing Away Pain

Some research suggests that massage can assist in chronic pain management by relieving some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia – namely pain, stiffness, fatigue and depression. Researchers from the Touch Research Institute in Miami suggest that massage may enable people with fibromyalgia to sleep longer and more soundly.

Deep sleep helps reduce levels of the chemical messengers for pain and also may improve brain function. A lack of deep sleep is thought to contribute to the concentration and short-term memory problems experienced by people with fibromyalgia.

“I definitely recommend massage to a patient if I can’t get control of their symptoms in other ways,” says Dr. Clauw.