When fibromyalgia symptoms begin to take over, Dr. Rebecca Kerr — at the California Pain Institute in the Torrance area of Los Angeles — is the premier resource for chronic pain management.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a frequently misunderstood or misdiagnosed musculoskeletal condition. After degenerative arthritis, it is the most common musculoskeletal condition. Women are 10 times more likely to get fibromyalgia than men. Unlike many diseases that can be traced to a specific infection or malfunction in a body organ or system, fibromyalgia is a collection of symptoms. There is no diagnostic test, so diagnosis relies on symptoms and physical exam.

What Are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?

The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia include widespread pain that lasts more than three months, tender points at specific locations in the body, fatigue, and anxiety and depression. Sleep disturbances are common and they may precede other symptoms. Patients can develop a condition called “fibro fog,” which results in difficulty thinking or concentrating. Chronic headaches, stiffness, numbness or tingling in hands and feet, and hypersensitivity to heat and cold may also occur. Some patients have abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome.

How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?

Both traditional and alternative treatments, such as medications, exercises, and behavioral techniques may be helpful although there is no cure. Treatments include medication, exercise (especially aquatic therapy), behavioral techniques, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes. There are at least three medications which are FDA approved to treat fibromyalgia symptoms, however, a variety of other medications have also historically been helpful. These include anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories. Opioids have not been shown to be effective in relieving fibromyalgia symptoms, so these are used cautiously. Therapeutic massage can help ease deep muscle pain and muscle spasm. In some cases trigger point injections are helpful.

Can Self-Management Help?

Exercise is a key to self-managing fibromyalgia; it helps maintain flexibility and strength, promotes sleep and can help decrease depression. People with fibromyalgia benefit greatly from regular aerobic exercise, but too much exercise can cause increased symptoms, so patients must learn to balance exercise with rest periods. Sleep hygiene is important. A regular bedtime, sleeping in a cool, dark room and avoiding stimulating activities like the use of electronic devices or television just before bedtime can promote sleep. Stress management can also promote sleep, reduce symptoms of depression, and make it easier to live with fibromyalgia. Some patients may benefit from certain nutritional supplements.