Save 10% on $75 Orders* • Use code BNR8320

How I Manage My Chronic Pain, by Patient Expert Karen Lee Richards

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (284 votes, average: 3.24 out of 5)

Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief, as well as being the Editor of both the IBS and Weight Loss HealthWatch newsletters. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth.


“Over the years, I have gradually found a number of things that have helped improve many of my symptoms. The key is, I don’t stop trying.Karen Lee Richards

I am often asked, “What is the best treatment for fibromyalgia?” or “What is the best pain medication?” I wish there was an easy answer. The truth is, we are all very different, particularly when it comes to medications and alternative treatments. What works very well for me may not work at all for you – or may even cause adverse reactions.

Each of us has to embark on our own personal journey to discover what works best for us. One thing I can tell you is that I’ve never talked with anyone who has successfully managed fibromyalgia or any other chronic pain condition just by taking medication. It pretty much always takes a combination of medication, complementary therapies and lifestyle adjustments.

Even though we each have to find our own individualized treatment plan, there is value in learning what has worked for someone else because it just might work for you, too. Generally speaking, treatments that are considered to be effective will usually work for about 30% to 40% of the people who have that particular condition.

I know firsthand how frustrating it is to try one treatment after another and nothing seems to work. But don’t give up. Eventually you will begin to find things that will help. In the end, it’s worth going through some trial and error to find the treatment combination that works best for you.

What Works for Me

I have lived with chronic pain from fibromyalgia and ME/CFS for more than 20 years. Over those years, I have gradually found a number of things that have helped improve many of my symptoms. The key is, I don’t stop trying. In fact, in just the last few months I’ve discovered two new weapons to add to my treatment arsenal.

Following are the medications, therapies and lifestyle changes that have made a difference for me.

1.  Medication

For the first seven years, I lived with ever-increasing pain while doctors told me it was stress and I was “just getting older.” During that period of time, I took massive doses of ibuprofen, which we now know to be very dangerous.

Once I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my doctor suggested I try tramadol. That turned out to be a huge blessing for me. For the first time in years, my pain levels were down enough that I could function fairly well most of the time – and I even had some periods of time that were pain free!

Since that time, three new medications have been approved for the treatment of fibromyalgia, but I have continued to take the tramadol. My philosophy has been, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Tramadol still works well for me and I see no reason to take a chance on something new that may not work as well and may have unpleasant side effects.

For the past couple of years, my doctor has also been giving me a prescription of Lortab® to have on hand for breakthrough pain. I generally only take it once or twice a month, when my pain level is up and I have to go somewhere or have a project due.

2.  Complementary Therapies

A wide range of complementary therapies may help improve pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. I’ve heard from people who have found things like massage therapy, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, and even bee-sting therapy to be helpful. For me, three complementary treatments have been the most effective:

Myofascial Release Therapy – I learned about MRT about 12 years ago. It is similar to massage therapy but much more gentle. Basically, the therapist gently manipulates and loosens your body’s constricted fascia, which helps release muscle spasms and ease pain. When I first started MRT, I was walking with a cane. Two months later, I laid my cane down and haven’t picked it up since. MRT did a lot to reduce my pain and help my body move and function better. You can read more about MRT here:  <a href=”
“>“Myofascial Release Therapy”

Acupuncture – Acupuncture came into my life about eight years ago when my MRT therapist decided to go back to school to study it. While acupuncture is certainly beneficial for pain, the two areas where I noticed the greatest differences were irritable bowel syndrome and sleep. Except for an occasional flare, my IBS is pretty much under control. Prior to acupuncture, I could never sleep more than an hour and a half to two hours at a time without medication. After starting acupuncture, I could usually sleep for one four-hour stretch, followed by two or three two-hour segments without medication. Here is more information on acupuncture: “Acupuncture”

Supplements – I’ve only been taking supplements on a regular basis for about a year. My most recent find in the supplement world is CoQ10. I’ve been amazed at how much my energy level has increased since starting it. I take three 100 mg softgels of Ubiquinol (the most usable form of CoQ10) each day.

Other supplements I’ve found helpful for FM and ME/CFS symptoms are vitamin D3 for pain, vitamin B-12 for energy, and acidophilus pearls for digestive health. I’m still experimenting with one new supplement at a time to see what else might prove to be beneficial.

3.  Move/Stretch

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that I need to move as much as possible. Sitting or lying in one position for too long will cause my muscles to stiffen and significantly increase my pain. I try to do a few simple stretches several times a day. If I’m having a particularly bad day, just standing up and doing a few full-body stretches can make a big difference.

Exercise can be a tricky thing for FM and ME/CFS patients – especially for those like me who have both illnesses. Fibromyalgia patients are taught that exercise is an essential component of any treatment program, but overexertion can send ME/CFS patients into a tailspin. It’s hard to know what you should do. For me, short walks – even just walking through my house – and frequent stretches with plenty of rest breaks in between seems to work best.

4.  Breathe

Breathing may sound like an odd “treatment” but I’ve found that most of us who have FM and/or ME/CFS tend to hold our breath a lot without even realizing it.  I’m not sure why. Perhaps because it’s somewhat natural to hold your breath when you feel pain.

The problem is, shallow breathing and holding your breath will actually cause your body to be more tense and increase your pain. As strange as it may sound, I try to remind myself to breathe several times a day. I’ve found that taking several good, deep breaths can help relax me and ease the pain a little. You can learn more about how to breathe properly here: “The Importance of Breathing Properly”

5.  Distraction

I learned a long time ago that the more I think about and focus on my pain, the worse it seems to get. So I try to always keep my mind occupied with something else. Following are some of my favorite distractions:

Help Others – The more I focus on trying to help others with their problems, the less I think about my own. I spend quite a bit of time each day answering questions and writing articles trying to help others find ways to better cope with their health problems. ProHealth’s Message Board is a good place to connect with, help and encourage others:

Laugh – The old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine” has a lot of truth to it. Research has shown that laughter has positive physiological effects on us like reducing pain, stimulating the immune system and improving brain function. Because of that, I regularly record a variety of comedy shows and movies so I always have something funny to watch if I’m having a rough day.

Mental Activities – Since I enjoy working with words, I spend some of my free time each day doing crossword puzzles or playing electronic games like Scrabble. Not only do they keep my mind occupied, but I feel like they help improve my cognitive functioning and keep fibro fog at bay.

6.  Sleepwear

Three months ago I would never have dreamed that I would be listing sleepwear as a method for coping with chronic pain. But then Goodnighties came into my life. I was invited to become a “Jammie Tester” for a new product line of what was called “recovery sleepwear.” The fabric is infused with negative ions, which are known to have many positive effects like increasing serotonin and melatonin levels, increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and helping us reach REM sleep more quickly.

Much to my surprise, I find that since I began wearing Goodnighties to bed every night, I fall asleep more quickly, sleep for five to six hour stretches and awake feeling refreshed – something I hadn’t experienced for more than 20 years. On top of sleeping better, the hip and low-back pain I have been plagued with for years is gone. Needless to say, this new sleepwear has become a key component of my treatment protocol. You can read my full review of Goodnighties here: “Goodnighties Recovery Sleepwear: A Product Review”

In Summary

It’s taken me 20 years to put together what I feel is a pretty effective treatment plan for myself. No, I’m not “cured,” and I still have some bad days. But I have a good life and many more good days than bad, which is a drastic improvement. I hope at least a few of the things that have helped me will help you as well.

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general and anecdotal, and is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

ProHealth CBD Store


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (284 votes, average: 3.24 out of 5)

5 thoughts on “How I Manage My Chronic Pain, by Patient Expert Karen Lee Richards”

  1. Earth says:

    What do people like myself, an American w/o medical coverage, do to obtain prescription medication without a doctor?

    1. OpusCroakus says:

      Depending upon where you live in the country, there is a good chance that your city offers some kind of programs for the indigent. You *really* need to be proactive and diligent about seeking them out. Try your local Metro Social Services office and talk to a case worker. This is her thing–to provide resources to those in need, and she does it all the time. We have one here called “Bridges to Care,” and its participation is based on your income. Doctors donate their time to specific clinics, so it’s NOT insurance–you meet with a doctor from a specific list. Sometimes the co-pay you owe is based on a sliding scale; i.e., 5% of your income, or etc.

      Dial 211 in your area and see if it exists. It’s a place to call for resources for those in need of housing, clothing, medical help, etc. They will tell you where to go for a specific need.

      Other programs are clinics in which you pay something like a $5 co-pay on your first visit and then a higher, but set fee for subsequent visits.

      As to medicine, once you get your doctor, that’s pretty easy. “Connection to Care” is a high-profile program based on income. Your doctor writes a prescription for the medication, you download and print forms from the internet from participating drug companies, fill them out, include with it the original prescription, doctor’s license information and usually a copy of your most recent tax return, and send it off. They either send the FREE or REDUCED PRICE prescription then to your doctor’s office to be picked up, or directly to you.

      If you’re just looking to get high for no money, that won’t happen, because pain meds are usually not offered on discounted programs by the drug companies, nor are they usually discounted at participating pharmacies. You know the ones–$4 for 30-day generics. Narcotics are governed by a different schedule and therefore aren’t included in discounts. I guess they’re too easy to fake prescriptions to and abuse. I’ve heard of people who are in more than one pain management program at a time, and they’re now making it easy to abuse THAT system, which is bad for me, with severe Fibromyalgia AND Systemic Lupus Neuropathy. It’s hard enough with my own crappy insurance just to be seen once a month in one pain management clinic.

      The point is, if you REALLY want to get treatment for your illness, then you CAN make it happen. Or, you can sit back and whine that nothing will happen. Why? Because you probably didn’t look.

      I’m not meaning to sound mean, but as someone who has clawed and knifed my way for resources when I became homeless 20 months ago by losing both jobs and my apartment in one week (Just got back into a real home two weeks ago with both cats intact.), then living in my car and losing a cherished cat at the same time, it was either I begin looking for resources in which I could avail myself, or I could die right there in my car with my two cats. So for anyone to say they can’t afford a doctor or medicine, is a sore spot for me. It means you haven’t tried hard enough.

      I hope this has helped.

  2. FMoldtimer says:

    I have huge problems with a couple of the suggestions in this article. Without wanting to dispute the writer’s experience, I still have to question some of the treatments mentioned. I’ll comment on just two here.

    First off, acupuncture is bunk. There is no plausible manner of action there. I’ve done some reading recently and found out that it was originally just the Chinese version of bloodletting, a treatment long since discredited in the rest of the developed world. “Restoring the flow of qi” referred to bleeding the patient, not some mythical energy flow. It also isn’t a practice based on thousands of years of Chinese practice. It was largely moribund until Mao Tse-Tung came to power. He quite deliberately revived it so as to have a distinctively Chinese form of medical practice to point to. It was used to substitute for medicine that works at a time when there wasn’t much money to pay for the latter. You could spend a lot of money on modern medicine, or a little on bogus Chinese “traditional” treatment. It has also been shown that the demonstrations of acupuncture as anesthesia were faked–the patients were, in fact, all selected as people with very high pain thresholds, and were all given injections of local anesthesia to complement the acupuncture.

    And really, pj’s infused with negative ions? Do they hold up to washing? After one wash, they’re probably just ordinary fabric, even if they were something more to begin with. I suspect the manufacturer is laughing all the way to the bank.

    Keeping ourselves well-rested & pain-free is critical. As we move toward that goal, we should still investigate the scientific basis of any treatment we’re considering.

    1. Pamela Robertson says:

      I’m with you she lost me on the pj’s! And i’m sure people desparate will try. How bout you any secrets to chronic fatigue and pain?

  3. LifeControlSW says:

    I agree with the above comments – there is no one-size fits all cure for many chronic diseases, including fibromyalgia. The best thing a person can do is figure out what works for them, and share that information with their care-givers, regardless of whether they are “Western” doctors or naturpaths.

    Using an app likes Manage My Pain for Android,, will allow you to track, analyze, and create reports of your pain episodes. It enables your care-givers to help provide evidence-based treatment options.

Leave a Reply