May is Fibromyalgia Awareness Month, dedicated to education and raising awareness for this condition which the CDC estimates affects around 4 million Americans. At KCP Physical Therapy, we have many friends and clients who are impacted by fibromyalgia, and we are joining in the efforts to educate and inform.

Fibromyalgia can be a very frustrating disorder to manage. According to KCP physical therapist Ashley Williams, clients often report feeling overlooked in the healthcare field and perceiving that their symptoms are not always taken seriously. They may experience anxiety and depression as results of both their pain and frustration in being misunderstood.

As a provider, Ashley understands that people seeking treatment for their symptoms are not only seeking answers for how to feel better, but also for reassurance and validation that their symptoms are real.

For both clients and providers, Ashley has found that education is key in dealing with this often-misunderstood condition.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain musculoskeletal condition, characterized by hyperalgesia (a heightened sensitivity to pain) and allodynia (pain due to a stimulus that does not normally provoke pain). This results in generalized musculoskeletal symptoms such as increased pain, tenderness, and fatigue. Often, sleep disorders, memory loss, anxiety, and depression are accompanying symptoms.

Currently, there is little research supporting an underlying cause of fibromyalgia. There is no cure yet, but there are treatments available to manage and control the symptoms. Conservative treatment including patient education, psychosocial counseling, and physical activity has been shown to give patients the most improvements with day-to-day tasks and pain management.

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

“Physical activity will make the biggest and most lasting impact for anyone suffering from fibromyalgia,” says Ashley. “When I work with clients who have fibromyalgia, I emphasize slow and safe integration of activities. I’ve found that most people want to incorporate movement into their lives; they’re just not sure how to do it safely.”

Physical therapists can help clients incorporate the right combination of physical activities that will both relieve pain and avoid flare-ups. Strength and aerobic training are likely to be key components of a treatment plan, but therapists may also use a combination of soft tissue mobilization and other therapeutic modalities to help down-regulate sensitive areas and reduce pain. While a cure may not be available, patients and their providers can work together in creating customized plans that contribute to an improved quality of life.

What Else Can I Be Doing Now?

 In addition to working with a team of healthcare providers to find the right combination of movement, medication, and support, patients often ask what else they can do to relieve their symptoms. Pain and fatigue are two of the most common everyday symptoms; here are some ideas to help in each area.

Pain Management: Different forms of heat may relieve some of the painful musculoskeletal symptoms. A hot shower or bath, a heating pad, or other form of topical heat may soothe the pain.

Fight Fatigue: Constant fatigue and mental fogginess (known as the fibro-fog) are additional challenging symptoms of fibromyalgia. According to the National Institutes of Health, practicing good sleep habits like creating a consistent sleep routine, reserving the bed for sleeping (no screens in bed!), keeping the room cool and dark, and avoiding substances like caffeine and alcohol will contribute towards getting a better night’s sleep and overall feeling of being rested.

Every case of fibromyalgia presents differently and requires a tailored approach to help patients meet their goals. To learn more about KCP can help, schedule an appointment today.