Reprinted with the kind permission of Donna Gregory Burch
I am a problem solver by nature, so when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia two years ago, I obsessively researched information on the best strategies for reducing fibromyalgia symptoms. I found out there are no easy answers. Certain drugs work for some and not for others. Some people find relief through massage, and others howl from pain at the thought of it. Most of us have medicine cabinets full of supplements that promised to ease our pain or exhaustion. Some helped, and some didn't. Some of us find exercise helpful, and some of us silently scream every time someone mentions it.
Fibromyalgia sufferers are a complicated bunch, but I do believe we can learn from what has worked for others. So, I've asked a bunch of my fellow fibromyalgia bloggers to answer the following question: What has helped the most for reducing fibromyalgia symptoms?
I think you'll find their answers interesting, and some are even a bit unexpected. After reading these, I'd love for you to leave your own tip in the comments!
From A Life Less Physical
"There is no clear treatment plan for fibromyalgia patients, and we’re all so different that our go-to solutions are often a result of hours of personal trial and error. But, the one thing that I would highly recommend to any spoonie is heat, heat and more heat!
"I have two hot water bottles at home, two herbal heat packs, an electric blanket, a hot water bottle in my desk drawer at work and some stick-on heat pads for when I’m out and about. I have thermal underwear – which I even wear in summer – and layers are my wardrobe failsafe. My scarves double up as blankets, my fingerless arthritis gloves keep my hands warm when I’m blogging and I’ve been known to sleep in a beanie hat during a migraine.
"Heat is soothing and relaxing and for me. It’s also comforting. My heat packs are like security blankets, and I don’t go away without them. I know this isn’t ground breaking news, but so many of us let ourselves get cold, and then see our symptoms worsen. Heat is simple, easy and inexpensive. It’s a no-brainer."
From February Stars
"One of the most important things has been to simply stop pushing myself beyond my limitations, which I used to do day in, day out. This actually wasn't a choice that I made but something I was forced to do when my body physically crashed.
"Since then I've learned a lot about my health. I've thankfully made some significant improvements, and I'm no longer in excruciating pain. This of course hasn't been easy; it has taken some discipline, a lot of patience and an unending ability to accept change but I am getting there.
"The catalyst for improvement has undoubtedly been meeting Dr. [William] Rawls and following his protocol for recovery – the Vital Plan Restore Program – which changed my view and approach to fibromyalgia. Instead of treating symptoms, I now think of underlying causes. Addressing issues such as poor adrenal function, mitochondrial dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies and poor immune function, as examples, has seen my body heal to a point I didn't think possible. Herbal therapies have been key in this for me, along with stress management, diet changes, pacing, and ultimately listening to my body.
"Although this sounds very regimented, taking an unpressured approach and making time for rest and relaxation every day has been key in my recovery. My view is to take things day by day and make choices each day that help me to feel as well as possible. If you patiently persist, small changes happen gradually over time that eventually lead to better health."
Donna Gregory Burch
From Fed Up with Fatigue
"I've been able to decrease my fibro symptoms by taking lots of small steps. First, I finally found a doctor who understands fibromyalgia and tries to treat the underlying causes versus just prescribing pills in an attempt cover up the symptoms (a strategy which often doesn't work).
"My doctor suggested a combination of high-dose melatonin, 5HTP and AdrenalCalm cream to improve my sleep. In addition, my urologist tweaked my overactive bladder medication, so that I don't wake up every two hours having to urinate. Being able to sleep for 6-7 hours at a time is amazing!
"I take SAMe and DLPA supplements to improve my energy/mood levels. Through testing, I found out my adrenal glands weren't functioning properly, and I was able to stabilize them with more supplements. (Doing this helped with sleep too!)
"Cleaning up my diet has been life-changing. I have less pain and fatigue now that I've cut out processed sugar, gluten, starches and other bad-for-me junk foods. Through an elimination diet, I've learned that gluten triggers nasty nerve pain and fatigue, so that gives me some control over my pain level.
"I am not my normal self, but I'm much better than I was when I started this journey."
From A Life Well Red
"Lack of sleep is one of the greatest enemies of those of us who live with fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation along with sleeping disorders go hand in hand with FMS. Whether it's restless leg syndrome, broken sleep due to hip and back pain, or the central nervous system's refusal to allow a restful state of mind, getting eight hours of sleep is like the proverbial 'dangling carrot' – a tasty morsel forever out of reach.
"Discovering methods that allow me to get at least 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep has been a great reducer of my fibro symptoms. A few of these include: taking long/hot soaking baths before bed, heavy/weighted blankets (deep pressure touch stimulation) and relaxing 'white noise'.
"It's also beneficial to eat foods that are healthy and soothing to the digestive system in order to avoid any nightly acid reflux. And of course, it always helps to have a warm, furry companion snuggled in next to you!"
"I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia as a teenager, and zero mainstream treatments worked for me. I spent close to five years without a single treatment for my pain levels and without anyone in my life who could relate to what I was going through.
"My world changed for the better when I met other patients online. Through a little bit of luck I connected with the right patients, the ones who shared my symptoms. I had already started experimenting with natural treatments but learning what worked for my 'medical matches' was incredibly eye-opening and helpful!
"Soon after meeting all of these new friends, I started trying new treatments and tracking my progress. Within 6 months I went from housebound to a full-time college student. Sure, I tried plenty of things that didn’t work for me. But I also found some incredibly helpful treatments for my pain. I found strange herbs that helped me sleep, diets that helped everything (including pain) and medications that didn’t leave me with insane side effects. And, I found a place where I belong in the process."
From Grace is Sufficient
"The one thing that has helped to reduce my symptoms the most was reducing my stress. I was in a very stressful job, and after years of trying to manage the stress, I ended up walking away from my career.
"I have a type A personality and have always wanted things done particular ways. I've had to learn to accept imperfection in order to embrace a healthier life. I have set up various systems that keep the daily stress to a minimum – from repeated meal plans to minimizing my wardrobe.
"I've accepted the fact that I need to ask for help at times and to say no at times – those things used to stress me out tremendously. Once I had the stress under control, I have been able to work on other things like dietary changes, stretching techniques, supplements, etc."
From Counting My Spoons
"The one thing that has improved my fibromyalgia symptoms the most is changing my diet. I'd say it was just removing gluten from my diet, but I think it's been so much more than that. I try my best to eat clean now and avoid processed foods.
"Changing my diet changed everything for me. It took me from living a life of constant pain and fatigue to getting my energy back. I'm not 100% of what I used to be, and I doubt I ever will be, but I'm able to live again, and I'm good with that."
From Not Standing Still's Disease
"The two biggest things that have helped me in managing my fibro symptoms are going gluten-free and Lyrica. I had a celiac test run that came back inconclusive, but I know that my body simply cannot process gluten. When I have some, I get both GI upset and increased fibro symptoms like allodynia.
"I know that Lyrica doesn't work for everyone, but it has been a lifesaver for me. I've gone from missing 1-2 days of work every two weeks to missing very few full days. My biggest problem was allodynia and not being able to handle wearing clothing. Unfortunately, there aren't many careers that allow you to work sans clothing. It took a few years to get Lyrica to the right dosage to really manage my pain, but it's perfect now."
From the Fibromyalgia Coaching Institute and My Restored Health
"For most of my life, I saw my body as the enemy. In high school, I was frustrated with constant daily headaches. I often prayed, 'God, if my body was a car, it would have qualified for the Lemon Law by now!' Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia was just one more piece of proof that my body was defective.
"After my diagnosis, my husband heard me complain about how broken I was. He stopped me and said, 'When you say things like that, you're putting ME down. I chose you. I married you. I think you're beautiful.' Talk about stopping a girl in her tracks!
"As I thought about what Scott said, I realized that my body isn't the enemy; my illness is. My body and I are on the same team, fighting the same battle. We want the same thing – to feel better. My body is pretty amazing; she can even heal herself with the right resources!
"Everything changed when I learned to love my body as she is right now, fibromyalgia and all. My symptoms started to improve as I gave my body what she needed: more sleep, better nutrition, less stress and so on. I began to treat myself the way I would treat someone I loved. My decisions and actions changed because my attitude changed.
"Self-care really isn't about actions; it’s literally loving yourself. When you love someone, you make different choices. Show yourself the same kind of care that you'd give to a loved one. Everything will grow from this."
From Fibro Warriors ~ Living Life
"I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and 19 'evil sidekicks' (co-existing and co-morbid conditions) that contribute to the pain. The 'evil sidekicks' often need to be addressed before you treat fibromyalgia itself.
"One thing I try to tell people is to remember when trying to find that magic mix of treatments that will work for you is that Fibromites are like snowflakes. Each one has a different list of “evil sidekicks” and each have to find what treatments will work for them.
"I am very lucky to have found myself a good group of physicians to help me manage my health. I have a general practitioner, rheumatologist, neurologist, chiropractor, acupuncturist and physical therapist.
"In addition, here are the top 10 things that work to keep my pain level low:
- Good sleep hygiene – Go to bed and get up at the same time. Use a sleep mask, light noise and a good mattress and pillow.
- Water – Drink it, soak in it and exercise in it.
- Myofascial (strain/counter-strain) therapy
- Prescription medications
- Vitamin supplements
- Keep moving i.e. stretching
- Sunshine/light therapy
- Find a good support group
- Stay positive because …. I am a Fibro Warrior ~ Living Life."
From Confessions of a Fibro Mama
"The thing that has helped me the most has been a total lifestyle change. I left a full-time job, moved to a warmer city with my family, took on a part-time job that I could drive to (avoiding hours on buses), adopted my four legged love and walking companion, and embarked upon a series of experiments.
"I have to be careful with how much I do. Each day is a series of cost/benefit analyses. Sometimes I feel guilty, sometimes I am pressured. I always pay for it if I overdo it.
"I have had to examine, analyze, know and trust myself. I have come so far and have been so well in the last few years (excepting pregnancy), but I always have a reduced energy tank, and I have to live with that.
"Fibromyalgia is a series of symptoms, and I strive to remember that I cannot be stagnant. I must look after my wellness holistically – not just focusing on the most pressing issues – and I must keep my hope alive despite always hitting the wall that fibromyalgia provides."
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.