Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that manifests itself from one patient to another in a different way, through physical and psychological symptoms. Along with the pain, these patients often have a decrease in their quality of life due to sleep disturbances, fatigue, morning stiffness, sense of accumulation of body fluids, extremity paresthesia, depression, headache, dizziness and bowel disorders.
The intensity and level of these symptoms can vary and it’s difficult to find a single medicine to relieve them. However, a lot of patients mention some helpful lifestyle habits that can work together synergistically to relieve pain, improve energy levels and general health. Thus, living with this condition creates the need for changes in daily living routines. This can include alterations in diet, sleep and rest management, exercise routines, and managing activities according to the patient’s energy level.
Let’s look at several ways to improve quality of life in fibromyalgia patients :
One of the most important ways to achieve a proper pain management is by strengthening the patient’s body. This can be enhanced through the implementation of a healthy diet.
Although, it is not a guarantee that all the symptoms will go away, many patients said that they started feeling better by following a healthier diet or avoiding some kind of foods.
Although there is no specific diet for all fibromyalgia cases, some dietary improvements can have an impact on well-being. This includes:
* Avoiding refined, salty and processed foods;
* Replacing them with fresh fruit and vegetables;
* Eliminating potential food allergens, such as preservatives and food additives;
* Choosing healthy cooking oils and implementing a low fat diet plan with high levels of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Antioxidants are critical in reducing the oxidative stress induced by fibromyalgia and specific micro-nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. They play an important role in supporting optimal neuronal functioning and muscle contraction.
2. Moderate alcohol and caffeine intake
Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, causing an immediate increase in energy after taking it. These properties lead many fibromyalgia patients to consume it, to fight sleepiness and tiredness. But, these effects wear off in a few hours, so often a high caffeine intake is maintained during the day, leading to altered sleep patterns and a consequent harmful effect on fatigue and pain levels. Due to this, fibromyalgia patients should limit the amount of caffeine they take in small doses, preferably earlier in the day.
Although low to moderate alcohol consumption is a common lifestyle behavior, its effects on fibromyalgia patients are still conflicting and not fully understood. In spite of the belief that alcohol can serve as a pain reliever, or a way to escape from problems, it can amplify pain in some patients.
Alcohol can lead to an increase of inflammation, which can worsen debilitating symptoms such as muscle pain, fatigue, anxiety or lack of sleep. Sometimes, drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep. However, alcohol disrupts sleep patterns by affecting the balance between sleep states─REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep─which are essential for effective brain functioning, resulting in poor quality of sleep.
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol also acts as a depressant, affecting the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can worsen depression and fatigue. Additionally, alcohol can react with drugs prescribed for fibromyalgia, such as sleeping pills, antidepressants or pain relievers. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist before drinking alcohol with prescription drugs.
It’s recommended to maintain alcohol intake in low reasonable amounts or to avoid it altogether if you feel that your body cannot tolerate its consumption. The effects of alcohol can be reduced by choosing lower alcohol versions of drinks and drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
3. Sleep hygiene
Sleep is the body’s natural way to repair itself and low ratings of quality and quantity of sleep are associated with exacerbation of other fibromyalgia symptoms. Patients should adopt a group of lifestyle and behavioral practices that promote good quality of sleep and lead to improved daytime alertness.
It is important to maintain a regular sleep/wake pattern every day. Sleeping time varies by individual, and the recommended sleep time in adults fluctuates between 7 to 9 hours per night. It is also extremely important not to spend an excessive amount of time in bed (even in individuals who experience daytime sleepiness) to maintain an efficient pattern.
A good way to achieve this is to:
* Establish a relaxing bedtime routine by avoiding large meals, intense light, activity or loud noise too close to bedtime;
* Regulate the sleeping environment to a comfortable space with optimal room temperature;
* Adopt relaxation strategies such as taking a hot bath at the end of the day, since it can enhance blood circulation and relax muscle spasms.
4. Avoid cold climate and temperature changes
The therapeutic effect of a warm climate is stated by a lot of patients. It is believed that regulating the temperature of the room to a mild level confers less pain and stiffness. This can also be achieved through the use of heaters, blankets, or heat packs to prevent stiff muscles due to cold weather. Heat boosts the blood flow and it is thought to increase the elasticity of tendons, muscles and other soft tissues, relieving tension and discomfort and reducing local pain.
5. Choose adequate clothing
Fibromyalgia is associated with hypersensitivity, which can manifest itself in many forms. Skin sensitivity is a common symptom and it can be difficult to find clothing that is not painful to wear.
When shopping for clothing, it is important to make smart and appropriate choices. You should avoid tight clothes and opt for loose and comfortable pieces that are easy to dress and don’t constrict movement. Pay attention to the materials described in the clothing label and purchase natural fibers like wool, cotton blends or silky materials. Avoid synthetic clothing or certain types of fabric, such as lace, that can become scratchy and irritating. Make sure the seams are soft since they can rub against the body and cause discomfort. Purchasing a larger size is also an option.
When it comes to underwear, cotton seems to be the softest and preferred material for patients. The elastic should be loose enough and covered in fabric, and purchasing a larger size can also provide more comfort. Some female patients complain of the discomfort and pressure caused by wired bras, and sports bras or maternity underwear can be a good comfortable option.
6. Physical exercise
Exercise is one of the most commonly recommended non-pharmacological strategies for the management of fibromyalgia, but symptoms often make it difficult for individuals to exercise consistently enough to derive benefits. Although, being less physically active can actually increase the severity of the symptoms, and patients should try to include some exercise activity in their daily schedule to prevent tight muscles.
Regular physical exercise can also restore the body’s neurochemical balance and trigger a positive emotional state. This contributes to an improved general health, which facilitates coping with pain, fatigue and other symptoms.
Physical exercise in forms of aerobic exercise, pool exercise, resistance exercise and stretching series has shown promising effects, especially when the exercise is maintained for a longer period of time. Due to the variety of symptom severity in patients with fibromyalgia, the exercise always needs to be adjusted to each patient’s resources and limitations.
* Aerobic Exercise: There is a general consensus that adults should undertake to a moderate aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 min daily. Low to moderate aerobic training, often by means of walking, improves peak oxygen uptake and decreases pain intensity and fatigue, if the exercise routine is done on a regular basis. Exercise should be initially started at a low level according to the patient’s condition and increase slowly. Initial increase in symptom severity might occur, but it commonly declines after some weeks when exercising at an appropriate frequency and intensity.
* Pool exercise: Pool exercise is commonly performed in temperate water and it can comprehend both aerobic exercise and exercises aiming to improve strength and flexibility. Water has soothing properties and facilitates relaxation while decreasing pain perception and stiffness.
* Resistance exercise: Resistance exercise is defined as a type of exercise that requires the body’s musculature to move against an opposing force, usually presented by some kind of equipment. It has been found to have a positive effect on muscle strength, physical function, multidimensional function, pain and fatigue.
* Stretching: Stretching exercises allow functional muscle length recovery, providing stress relief, postural realignment and improving quality and range of movement. Exercises like Yoga and Pilates are recommended as a therapy to improve chronic fatigue and, as the performance of the movements usually is not strenuous, they are increasing in popularity among people suffering from pain disorders. These combine series of non-impact strength, flexibility, and breathing exercises, promoting a restful state and mental tranquility, which may raise pain thresholds and help to break the “pain cycle.”
7. Identifying pain triggers
A key aspect of the life of a fibromyalgia patient is to make himself the center point of treatment, focusing on lifestyle adjustments that match their abilities, symptoms, and resources. By evaluating their own symptoms, patients can identify factors that can lead to fibromyalgia flares and set boundaries to avoid pushing themselves too far. A flare is a temporary increase in the intensity of the symptoms, which can be triggered by certain circumstances or behaviors, including light, noise, smells, temperature changes or another kind of sensitive exposure.
Stress negatively affects health and it can have a significant impact on fibromyalgia symptoms as well. Stress and emotional states can greatly affect tolerance and sensitivity to pain, so it is important to take some time for rest and relaxation every day and avoid stress or rushing periods since sudden adrenaline release can increase fatigue levels. Keeping a daily schedule of work and keeping the mind relaxed is highly recommended and, if possible, daily activities should be planned carefully in a way to leave small break periods in between for rest.
Improving general health over time plays an important role on the road to recovery from fibromyalgia. Every patient has his own different group of symptoms and must identify the kind of habits that ease or aggravate them.
Another amazing way to improve the quality of life in fibromyalgia patients is to encourage them to join fibromyalgia forum for more support. You will get the opportunity to connect with group members who share their experiences with fibromyalgia. Similarly, you can learn effective strategies from peers, and receive education about their ailment from chronic pain and depression too.
Changes in lifestyle may require a significant amount of dedication and patience until small improvements gradually start to appear, leading to better health. Although these measures may not lead to a complete relief of the symptoms, they can have a valuable role within the overall treatment to improve the patient’s quality of life.