Doctors are still unsure what causes fibromyalgia, which involves pain but no signs of injury or inflammation. A wide range of natural and medical treatments can help.
This article looks at how to relieve the pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia using medications, complementary therapies, and self-care strategies, including dietary changes.
Various medicines can help ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. These include:
Over-the-counter pain medications
If these are not effective, a doctor may prescribe stronger options.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved
- pregabalin (Lyrica), a gamma-aminobutyric acid agonist and antiepileptic, which may calm overactive nerves
- duloxetine (Cymbalta), a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake Inhibitor (SNRI), which increases levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine to dampen pain signals
- milnacipran (Savella), another SNRI to reduce pain
People with fibromyalgia may need to try several drugs or different dosages before they find the right combination for them. Let the doctor know about any side effects, and ask how long the medication takes to work. Some drugs take several weeks to become fully effective.
However, the researchers concluded that SSRIs might help relieve depression in people with this condition, which can lead to depression and anxiety. Some people may find that taking antidepressants improves their mood, which helps them manage the pain more effectively.
Some SSRIs that doctors prescribe for people with fibromyalgia include:
- fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem)
- paroxetine (Brisdelle, Paxil, Pexeva)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
Sleeping can be difficult with fibromyalgia pain, and sleep deprivation can make the pain worse.
If strategies such as regularly going to bed at the same time and investing in a more comfortable mattress are not effective, doctors may prescribe sleep medications.
Narcotic pain medication
Narcotic pain relievers called opioids change the way the brain responds to pain. They can relieve many types of pain, although their effectiveness for fibromyalgia is unclear.
The previously mentioned
Although some people with chronic pain benefit from opioids, both the
Side effects of opiods, such as mood changes, sleep disruption, and trouble with thinking and memory, are also symptoms of fibromyalgia. Opioid use can make these symptoms worse.
And because opioids can be addictive, it is essential to speak with a doctor about the benefits and risks of these drugs before taking them. The doctor may recommend other treatments first.
Non-narcotic pain medication
Research into other fibromyalgia treatments is ongoing. For example, a 2020 study that included 74 people with fibromyalgia found that intravenous lidocaine produced long-lasting pain relief.
The following nondrug approaches may relieve symptoms on their own or improve the effects of conventional treatments.
Some studies suggest that therapy can help people cope with fibromyalgia. This does not imply that fibromyalgia symptoms are “all in a person’s head.” Instead, it reflects that pain is a psychological and physical experience.
Stress and lack of social support can make a person’s pain less manageable. Therapy can provide an outlet and help a person with fibromyalgia find new ways to cope with decreased mobility, the complexities of the medical system, and any unsympathetic colleagues, employers, or loved ones, for example.
People may prefer online or in-person therapy. A 2015 study found that both ways of having cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helped with depression and fibromyalgia symptom-related distress. However, only face-to-face therapy improved daily functioning.
CBT can also teach a person relaxation techniques to help ease the pain. And a 2019 study found that CBT helped relieve insomnia and fibromyalgia pain in people with both conditions.
There is no evidence that any particular exercise program is more effective than another at easing pain. But most forms of exercise seem to lead to at least modest pain relief.
Some exercise options that are supported by research include:
- aerobic exercise, such as running, aerobic classes, or swimming, according to a 2017 study
- tai chi, according to a
- yoga, according to a different 2017 study
A person with fibromyalgia should choose the approach to exercise that works best for them.
For some people, an anti-inflammatory diet may help. This involves eating foods such as raspberries, fish, onions, and nuts. Processed foods, salt, and heavy alcohol consumption can increase inflammation, so a person with fibromyalgia may benefit from avoiding these things.
Always speak with a healthcare professional before making any significant dietary changes. A registered dietitian can help a person map out a diet that is balanced, healthy, and satisfying.
A person can find out which foods trigger their symptoms by keeping a food diary and tracking changes in symptoms that may correspond.
In a section below, we describe specific foods that a person with fibromyalgia might want to avoid and others that might be beneficial.
Vitamins and supplements
Some healthcare professionals believe that nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of vitamin D or magnesium, might cause or worsen fibromyalgia symptoms. In this case, certain vitamins and supplements
Anyone interested in trying supplements should speak with a doctor first. It is usually possible to test for any deficiencies and then determine whether any supplements are necessary.
Emotional stress is a possible trigger for fibromyalgia. Stress management techniques may, therefore, make symptoms less severe.
The key is for each person to find a method that fits their lifestyle. Some people socialize, while others find that new hobbies or other distractions work well.
Mindfulness and meditation
Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, which encourages increased awareness of the present moment, may help with fibromyalgia symptoms.
A 2014 study found that mindfulness alleviated many fibromyalgia symptoms in women, including stress and sleep problems. Participants who practiced mindfulness reported less severe symptoms and a lower perceived burden associated with fibromyalgia.
Meditation may also help reduce stress and anxiety, forms of psychological stress. In some people, psychological stress can be a fibromyalgia trigger.
A person might find that any of these complementary therapies help manage their symptoms:
- massage therapy
- guided imagery
These methods may work for some people and not for others. Research into their effectiveness has arrived at mixed results — some of which have been promising. For example, a
Complementary medicine may offer its best results when it accompanies traditional treatments.
Some self-care strategies can help a person be more comfortable and sleep better, thus improving fibromyalgia symptoms. Tips include include:
- using a comfortable but ergonomically sound chair, especially when working at a desk
- having good posture
- having healthy sleep hygiene, including regularly going to bed at
around the same time
- investing in a comfortable mattress and pillow
Working with a supportive medical team
Finding a sympathetic doctor can be key for an accurate diagnosis and effective, tailored treatment.
Feeling heard and understood is critical for accessing the best combination of treatments. A person with fibromyalgia should work with specialists in chronic pain.
Anyone who feels dismissed or unheard may wish to switch to a new healthcare team.
Foods to eat:
- fruits like strawberries and blueberries
- leafy green vegetables
- olive oil
- fatty fish
- whole grains
- low-fat diary
Foods to avoid:
- white bread
- rice cakes
- fried foods
- sweetened drinks, such as sodas
- red meats
Fibromyalgia is a lifelong condition, but it is
However, many people with this illness have periods when symptoms are less or more severe. When symptoms worsen, this is called a “flare.”
Treating fibromyalgia involves reducing symptoms and preventing flares.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic, nonprogressive medical condition with no known cure. Many people have specific triggers, such as stress or injuries, that aggravate their symptoms. Treatment focuses on easing the symptoms and preventing them from worsening.
Managing fibromyalgia involves finding the right combination of treatments. This might include medications, self-care techniques, and complementary therapies. What works for one person might not work for another, and the best approaches may change with time.
Finding a supportive doctor, reporting any changes in symptoms, and being willing to experiment can help.