A new day is dawning for those with fibromyalgia who are seeking effective methods of chronic pain management and arthritis pain relief. It wasn’t so long ago when nothing and no one seemed to help the millions of people with fibromyalgia. Doctors didn’t understand the puzzling condition, and as a result, patients often were left feeling – if not told outright – that the pain was all in their heads.

But that was then, says Leslie J. Crofford, MD, chief of rheumatology and women’s health at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington. “Today,” she says, “patients will get a diagnosis, information and appropriate treatment.”

New research has shown that people with fibromyalgia can take arthritis pain relief into their own hands, too. Doctors’ prescriptions for medications target the hypersensitivity triggered by the errant transport of pain messages throughout the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or help improve sleep quality. In addition, fibromyalgia patients benefit from learning about their condition from other patients, exercising and trying acupuncture or massage.

The Exercise Rx

Participating in a strength-training program not only increased upper- and lower-body strength by 63 percent and 49 percent, respectively, it also decreased pain by 39 percent, according to researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The women in the study experienced these benefits after training just two days a week for 16 weeks.

“The goal is to start low and go slow, in terms of increasing physical activity,” says Dr. Crofford. “We tell people to start at their capacity – no matter how brief that is – and increase to a five-minute warm up; 30 minutes of aerobic activity, such as walking; a five-minute cooldown; and then a stretch. At that point, you’re ready to begin strength training.”

In addition to arthritis pain relief, exercise has many benefits for people with fibromyalgia. It may reduce fatigue, says Dr. Crofford, and it may boost confidence. “People believe they can do other things if they can stick with an exercise program,” she says.

And they can. In a study funded, in part, by the Arthritis Foundation, an exercise program that includes walking, strength training and stretching improved physical function and curtailed symptoms in women with fibromyalgia.