Moving Beyond Fibromyalgia
By Debbie Roberts, LMT
Moving Beyond Fibromyalgia
By Debbie Roberts, LMT
Around the age of 25, my doctor diagnosed me with a condition known as fibromyalgia (FM). Although I'd heard of FM, like most people (including my doctors at the time), I didn't know much about the condition.
What I did know was that it was a chronic condition and the cause of a lot of pain and dysfunction for me. But as someone who'd always been physically fit and active, I wasn't willing to accept the idea that I'd have to live with fatigue and discomfort for the rest of my life. Instead, I made it my personal mission to learn as much as I could about FM and how to treat it.
FM Then and Now
During my exploration, I was surprised to discover that there wasn't a significant amount of research done on FM in over 50 years. In fact, during the past half a century there had only been one significant shift in the treatment of this condition. That shift was the use of pharmaceuticals.
The addition of pharmaceuticals seemed to halt research on more holistic approaches to FM. And somewhere in the subterfuge, the idea that the human body has the capacity to heal itself when brought into equilibrium was lost.
Many people who suffer from FM have tried a plethora of pharmaceuticals that promise to ease their pain, only to find that the drugs have little effect on the actual symptoms.
Solving the FM Puzzle
As an FM patient and a therapist, I began to look past the pharmaceuticals to more holistic approaches. As I gathered different pieces to the FM puzzle, three complimentary approaches to wellness soon took focus. If FM was to be controlled successfully, it would have to be treated on three fronts simultaneously: the physical, the mental and the spiritual. This is what I call the Triad of Health for FM patients. When a patient ignores one piece of the puzzle, they create an opportunity for pain and dysfunction to take its place.
The Physical Piece
As a therapist, you no doubt see clients who suffer from FM in your practice. Here are a few tips to help your clients find the physical relief they so need:
- Start Swedish. When clients are in the acute phase of FM they need gentle pressure from nurturing hands, so Swedish massage is perfect. The fascia needs to be coaxed, warmed and softly manipulated. Deep tissue massage may come later, or not at all depending on the client's needs.
- Be flexible. Flexibility has a tremendous impact on reducing the trigger point pain associated with FM. Stretch clients during sessions and encourage them to incorporate a flexibility program into their daily lives.
- Just breathe. Teach your clients that shallow breathing causes undo tension in the body and upper cervical region, contributing to chronic neck and headache pain common in FM. Show them how to breathe deeply and properly.
- Water, water everywhere. Water helps the body flush out toxins, which can aggravate the effects of FM. Instruct clients to drink a half ounce of water per pound of body weight daily. (For example, 140 pounds of body weight would need 70 ounces of water.)
- Let 'em sleep it off. Remind your clients that adequate rest is absolutely vital in FM. Rest rejuvenates the entire system and gives the body a chance to reset itself.
The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection: Bringing the Pieces Together
There's been a lot of attention lately on the mind-body-spirit connection. But the concept has been around for years. Even ancient healers knew that a person's state of mind and belief in things both seen and unseen played a tremendous role in their ability to heal.
Here are some modern day tips you can introduce to your clients to keep their body, mind and spirit in alignment.
- Use Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Remind your clients that what they think, say and hear influences how they feel. In fact, studies show that our internal dialog has the power to excite or sedate the central nervous system. Now that's powerful!
- Shift their focus. Remind clients to focus on the things in their lives that bring them pleasure and joy. Or, to think the things that challenge them in positive ways. This shifts their focus off of the pain and makes life more enjoyable.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude. Help clients connect with the energy of gratitude by reminding them of the progress they're making. Challenge them to express their gratitude on a daily basis so they can truly appreciate the life they've been given.
- Connect with a higher power. Meditation, prayer, chanting and even yoga are just a few ways for your clients to connect with their higher power. People who spend just a few minutes a day involved in one of these activities can reduce their stress levels and their pain levels significantly over time.
- Williamson ME. Fibro-myalgia: A Comprehensive Approach. Walker & Company, 1996.
- Travell JG, Simons DG. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1992.
- Starlanyl DJ, Copeland ME. Fibromyalgia & Chronic Myofascial Pain (1st Edition). New Harbinger Publications.
- Khalsa SK. Kundalini Yoga: Unlock Your Inner Potential Through Life-Changing Exercise. Dorling Kindersley Publishing.
- National Fibromyalgia Association.
The 1930's Approach
A few years ago I ran across an article on the condition formerly known "fibrositis" (aka fibromyalgia). Here are a few treatment tips the article shared and why they're still good advice today:
- Get plenty of rest.
This is even more important with today's hectic lifestyles.
- Eat chicken soup with lots of vegetables.
Even then they recognized the importance of proper nutrition.
- Get a massage.
Still a great idea, just don't start with deep tissue as they suggested in the 30s.
- Take a leisurely stroll.
Exercise kicks the body's endorphins into gear.
- Do gymnastics.
Today we know that any flexibility routine eases the pain of FM.