Fibromyalgia is a debilitating chronic pain syndrome, affecting 2 to 7% of people, the majority women. Medical research now demonstrates that fibromyalgia is best treated by integrative approaches rather than conventional methods such as pain medications. I had the good fortune of meeting Joyce at Body and Brain Yoga and was inspired by her hard work and courageous self-care to improve her fibromyalgia. She has been kind enough to share her first-hand experience here as a guest writer. Thank you Joyce!
— Deborah Coady, MD
Feeling sluggish? Experiencing muscle cramping and other body aches and pains? If these symptoms are prolonged it could be fibromyalgia. Muscle cramps, fatigue and widespread pain throughout the body characterize this condition, which is often accompanied by the inability to think clearly (“brain fog”). Headaches, restless leg syndrome, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and mood swings are common additional symptoms.1
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and I offer these tips to those of you who have also received this diagnosis from a physician.
What is the cause? The symptoms may just accumulate over time, which was my situation. Or the malady may be the result of a physical trauma, an infection, a surgical procedure—or even extreme psychological stress2. Experts suspect that the risk for developing fibromyalgia is, in large part, inherited.
Whatever the reason, here are some ways to improve your quality of life.
Experts agree that it is important to avoid tobacco, sugar, additives, processed foods, and fried foods and to limit caffeine and red meat. Instead, try fruits, vegetables—especially leafy greens—whole grains, nuts and lean protein, such as chicken and fish. I eat a variety of beans, especially garbanzo beans and black beans, along with tofu and quinoa.
What should you drink? Avoid juices and soda. I drink water and green tea, and limit myself to one eight-ounce cup of caffeinated coffee per day.
food diary can help pinpoint foods that may trigger your pain. For example, some patients react to aspartame or chocolate. Some medical practitioners believe that fibromyalgia sufferers may benefit from a gluten-free diet but this regimen did not help me.
I take vitamin supplements based on my physician’s recommendation. This includes the herbal supplement turmeric 300 mg two times a day, which alleviates pain.
A nutritionist or specially trained physician can recommend a customized diet and also vitamins based on your specific body chemistry. Some researchers believe a magnesium deficiency may decrease symptoms, for example.2
I have had significant improvement from practicing Body and Brain Yoga over the last two years. The stretching, meditation and deep breathing ease pain. The gentle movement of tai chi helps improve balance and lower stress.1
Several sources recommend getting aerobic exercise several times a week to ward off lethargy.
Fibromyalgia patients often utilize massage and acupuncture; I have employed these modalities, as well. Experts agree that it helps to keep a regular sleep schedule. They also advise that you do something enjoyable both for yourself and for others. And try exercising your brain with word and number puzzles.
Remember, your mental outlook is important. A great source of inspiration has been Ilchi Lee’s book Calligraphic Meditation for Everyday Happiness. One of my favorite quotes follows:
Open wide your heart and accept all the experiences of life. Don’t let any moment go half-lived. Live with greatness even in moments of sadness and pain.
It is no shame to trip and fall as you walk the path of life. Just get up and continue on your way.
Good luck to you on moving on and upgrading your life even with pain and discomfort.
Joyce Litwin Zimmerman, a freelance writer, attends class daily at the East Meadow Body and Brain Center.