Fibromyalgia: How to approach it on an alternative front

Fibromyalgia: How to approach it on an alternative front

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness in your muscles and joints throughout the body as well as fatigue and trouble sleeping. It can also give rise to memory problems.

Medical experts are still not sure what causes fibromyalgia and so there is no cure for it as yet. At best, you can only try and manage the symptoms. However, experts have also found a link between certain health conditions, stress and other changes in life which are likely to trigger the disorder.

If one of your parents has fibromyalgia, your chances of developing the disease are really high. So basically, it is passed down the family. Though fibromyalgia can affect people of any age, females and adults above 40 are the most susceptible to it. Also those already suffering from chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, depression, anxiety disorders, back pain and irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to develop fibromyalgia.

Stress too plays a major role here in setting off the disorder. Obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and nervous system trauma can also boost your chances of developing fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia has a pre-cursor and that is chronic inflammation. It’s the body’s coping mechanism to all the factors that could lead to this condition.

Common symptoms of fibromyalgia

  1. Pain and fatigue are the two most common symptoms of fibromyalgia.
  2. Musculoskeletal pain or tenderness
  3. Fatigue
  4. Pain in the face and jaw
  5. Headaches and migraines
  6. Digestive issues like diarrhoea and constipation
  7. Bladder control issues

The disorder can also cause mental and emotional symptoms.

  1. Memory problems or brain fog.
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Sleep disorders like insomnia

If you are already suffering from fibromyalgia, there would be phases when your symptoms will lie low and phases when you experience a flare-up. Generally, stress is the primary cause of fibromyalgia symptoms worsening. It could be emotional in nature or caused by changes in your daily routine. Poor sleep, bad diet, dehydration, hormonal imbalances, changes in the weather or even changes in medication could set off the symptoms.

How do you help fibromyalgia?

When it comes to treating this disorder, we already know that it cannot be cured but one can get relief from the symptoms, which come and go. Generally, people take prescription medicine to treat the pain and anti-depressants, depending on the symptoms. Many people also resort to dietary supplements.

Some of the commonly used dietary supplements include 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan). It raises the serotonin levels in the brain thus elevating one’s mood. It is also believed to be helpful in easing anxiety levels, insomnia and pain. Then there is SAMe or S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine. This also boosts serotonin and dopamine levels. Magnesium, Melatonin and St John’s wort are some of other dietary supplements used.

Since Western medicine can only work on managing the symptoms of the disease, one can look at alternative therapies. Traditional practices like meditation, yoga and tai chi work very well as do water aerobics, cycling and Nordic walking. As we know, exercise, especially strength training and stretches, goes a long way in decreasing pain and discomfort. The quality of our sleep can also make a huge difference to the pain levels in our body.

Other alternative remedies employed include reiki, biofeedback therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, sleep therapy, stress management and cognitive behavioural therapy. The last helps people change the way they think about their pain and thus helps them to manage their symptoms better. Basically, fibromyalgia requires a multi-pronged approach, which will work on the physical and psychological aspect in addition to pharmacological treatment.

After all, living with a challenging chronic condition like fibromyalgia can be very stressful. While we can’t prevent the onset of the disorder, we can definitely take care of ourselves to reduce the severity of its symptoms. This self-care should not just stop at diet, exercise and sleep, but should include our emotional wellbeing as well.

Common alternative treatments

Yoga - It is a practice which involves both body and mind and includes postures, movements and breath-work, all of which have long lasting positive effects on the body and the mind of a person suffering from fibromyalgia.

Tai Chi - It's a Chinese martial art form where you move slowly through a series of motions while focusing on your breath. The best part is that it is gentle and offers lasting benefits for patients.

Acupuncture - The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture is also used by many to ease fibromyalgia pain. Traditionally, acupuncture was used by the Chinese to restore balance in the body’s energy flow. Nowadays, its primary use is in managing pain.

Massage - Getting a massage done would help in easing pain and muscle tension. It is also known to bring down anxiety and depression levels in fibromyalgia patients.

Hydrotherapy - Also called water therapy, it involves the use of water to improve health. It could include steam baths, aquatic exercise or water aerobics or soaking in mineral water. All of the above are known to help reduce the fatigue and pain.

Stretching - It is an extremely gentle form of exercise and helps to increase the flexibility of muscles. Regular stretching exercises can help bring down pain and improve functioning of muscles.

Chiropractic medicine - This is an alternative form of treatment that uses spinal manipulation and realignment to give relief from fibromyalgia pain.

Foods that help fibromyalgia

  1. Whole grains, especially brown rice and millets.
  2. Vegetables, especially colours and leafy greens.
  3. Beans and lentils (what we Indians call our dals), could include soybean products like tofu and tempeh.
  4. Nuts and seeds.
  5. Fruit, especially seasonal and local.
  6. Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles, kefir, kanji and many others.
  7. Fish and eggs if you are a non-vegetarian.
  8. Indian spices and herbs.
  9. Drink teas (mainly decaffeinated), avoid coffee.
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