Fibromyalgia…I feel that the waters are somewhat muddy when it comes to this chronic condition based on what I have heard or read some health care providers say.
Through my own research and experience it is a very real condition that is treatable. It hurts my heart when patients who are suffering with the symptoms of fibromyalgia tell me “well, there is nothing I can do for it” or “my pain will never go away.” This is not true at all. We need to educate patients with fibromyalgia that there are ways to manage their symptoms.
In my work setting as a physical medicine nurse practitioner, when patients get to me, they have already been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and a majority of the patients I see with fibromyalgia have had the diagnosis greater than a year by the time I first see them. Some of them are on medications for their fibromyalgia and some are not.
Some patients feel like their fibromyalgia symptoms are somewhat under control and some do not, each patient varies. As with anything in life, no two individuals are the same, hence their symptoms will not be the exact same.
So, as health care providers, we need to individualize our treatment plans for patients with fibromyalgia. A cookie cutter treatment plan will not work for patients with this chronic condition because what works for one patient may not work for another.
One of my goals as a provider is to make sure patients are not labeling themselves with the condition of fibromyalgia. My thought and experience with this is…when a patient starts to label themselves with any certain condition, then they let that disease or condition define them and their life. This is dangerous, if a person walks around all day, every day seeing themselves as their condition it typically makes the symptoms worse because that is what that individual is focused on.
If we can help shift patients focus back to themselves and not their condition, we could see big changes in symptoms.
Treatments for Fibromyalgia
The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia include chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep disorders, mood disorders and difficulty with thinking and memory. None of those symptoms sound desirable at all. A trusted, reliable resource for fibromyalgia and treatment modalities for this chronic condition is the Mayo Clinic, so let’s look at some of the treatments they recommend to patients for controlling the symptoms of fibromyalgia:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Controlled deep breathing exercises, meditation
- Massage therapy
- Physical activity. This one has to be my favorite for all of the many benefits it has to offer. When I encourage fibromyalgia patients to start exercising a majority of them feel they won’t be able to because they hurt all of the time. This is where education is vital… “yes, when you start exercising it might make you more sore initially and it might not be fun but as you continually stick with it your body will release its own natural anti-inflammatory chemicals. Not only will your pain start to decrease but your stress, anxiety and depression will start to decrease too.” What patient doesn’t want that?
- Sleep…this is a blog post all within its self. Make sure patients are getting adequate sleep and if not help them with the solution.
- Ensuring the patient has a well-balanced diet and is avoiding inflammatory food and drinks. If needed, refer them to a nutrition specialist.
- Managing stress and promoting relaxation through art, music, dance or anything where the patient can express their creative side.
- Teaching patients how to set goals. Teach them how to utilize the “SMART” goal setting method, I’m sure we are all familiar with this method. Encouraging and teaching patients that it takes discipline to stick with their goals, “there will be days when you feel like not wanting to exercise or practice your deep breathing exercises, do it anyways…you’ll be glad you did in the long run.”
This is not an all-inclusive list of a fibromyalgia treatment plan but it’s a great starting place. My hope is this post is more thought provoking than anything. As providers we should always be thinking, “What can I do for my patient to give them the tools they need to combat their condition?”
What are some ways that you help motivate and treat patients with fibromyalgia?
Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Fibromyalgia: The road to wellness. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015