Doctors are still unsure about what causes fibromyalgia, a condition where a person feels pain despite having no signs of physical injuries or inflammation. However, there is a wide range of natural and medical treatments available that may help with the symptoms.
This article looks at the various ways a person can relieve the pain of fibromyalgia using medical treatments, medications, home remedies, and natural products.
Some prescription medications can help with the pain of fibromyalgia. These include:
1. Over-the-counter pain medication
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, including aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Naproxen, may help a person to manage fibromyalgia pain. Some people find that OTC versions of these drugs work well. When these medications are not effective, a doctor may prescribe stronger pain medication.
2. Fibromyalgia drugs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three drugs specifically for treating fibromyalgia. Those include:
- pregabalin (Lyrica), which may calm overactive nerves
- duloxetine (Cymbalta), a drug that acts on brain chemicals called serotonin and norepinephrine to dampen pain signals
- milnacipran (Savella), which also acts on serotonin and norepinephrine to reduce pain
A 2018 study, for instance, shows that people using pregabalin reported improvements in pain, quality of life, mood, and sleep.
People with fibromyalgia may need to try several drugs or different dosages before they find the right combination for them. Talk to a doctor about any side effects, and ask how long it will take the medication to work. Some drugs require several weeks to become fully effective.
Some research suggests that low levels of the chemical serotonin make people more vulnerable to fibromyalgia. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase serotonin levels, may help with some fibromyalgia symptoms.
4. Sleeping medications
Many people with fibromyalgia struggle to sleep at night. Sleep deprivation can make the pain worse. When home treatments, such as going to bed at the same time each night and investing in a comfortable mattress fail, doctors may prescribe sleeping medications.
5. 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 pain is unclear.
A 2018 study found that the fibromyalgia drugs containing pregabalin worked better for pain relief than opioids. Because opioids can be addictive, it is essential to talk to a healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of these drugs and to consider other treatments first.
6. Non-narcotic pain medication
Some doctors prescribe non-narcotic pain relievers, such as Tramadol, to help with the pain of fibromyalgia. These drugs can be effective but can also be addictive. It is essential to monitor the dosage and to consider other strategies for long-term pain management.
The following natural remedies may relieve symptoms on their own or improve the effects of drug treatments:
7. Talking therapies
Some studies suggest that therapy can help people cope with fibromyalgia. This does not mean fibromyalgia is in a person's head. Instead, it shows that pain is both a psychological and physical experience.
A person's perceptions can alter how severely they experience their pain. Stress and lack of social support can make a person's pain feel less manageable. Therapy can also help people with fibromyalgia find new ways to cope. It might also offer an outlet for the challenges that some people face in coping with decreased mobility, negotiating the medical system, and dealing with unsympathetic colleagues, employers, or loved ones.
People with limited mobility may also find help from online therapy. A 2015 study found that both face-to-face and online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could help with depression and symptom-related distress. Also, CBT might help some people living with fibromyalgia to use relaxation techniques to cope with pain. However, only face-to-face therapy improved daily functioning.
According to a 2015 review study, there is a strong link between a sedentary lifestyle and chronic pain, even in people without fibromyalgia. Remaining physically active may prevent muscle wasting and stiffness that can make a person's pain worse.
There is no clear evidence to suggest that one specific exercise program is better than another. Instead, most exercise seems to produce at least modest pain relief.
The following exercises are shown to improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia:
Some 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 2018 study
- yoga, according to a 2017 study
A person with fibromyalgia should choose the exercise regimen that works best for their schedule and lifestyle.
9. Diet changes
People with fibromyalgia may benefit from experimenting with their diets. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a wide range of diets may help with symptoms.
For instance, because fibromyalgia may be linked to chronic inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet may help. This diet encourages eating foods such as raspberries, fish, onions, and nuts. Processed foods, salt, and heavy alcohol consumption can increase inflammation, so people with fibromyalgia should avoid them.
A study published in 2017 argues that fibromyalgia might be related to a person's metabolism. According to this study, fibromyalgia symptoms may develop when the body cannot create enough serotonin, which is a chemical that transmits impulses to nerves, fibers, and muscles. Serotonin derives from an amino acid called tryptophan, which might be affected by high levels of fructose, a type of sugar.
This study suggests that a person tries:
- adopting a diet low in fructose by avoiding fruit sugars, some bread products, and candy
- avoiding monosodium glutamate (MSG), because it may excite the nervous system
- avoiding the artificial sweetener aspartame, which may interrupt serotonin in the brain
- avoiding lactose, which is a protein found in milk, because of possible effects on serotonin
Always talk to a doctor before making any significant diet changes, and consider seeking support from a nutritionist to plan a diet that is balanced and healthful. Restrictive diets can result in a person not consuming enough protein and carbohydrates, for example.
A person can find out which foods trigger their symptoms by keeping a food diary and tracking their symptoms. Working with a doctor or nutritionist can help individuals with fibromyalgia find the diet that suits them best.
10. Vitamins and supplements
Certain vitamins and supplements may help to reverse some of the nutritional deficiencies that make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. People interested in trying supplements should talk to a doctor first. It is usually possible to test whether a person has any deficiencies to determine the most appropriate supplements.
11. Stress management
Many people with fibromyalgia find that stress makes their symptoms worse. Stress management techniques may, therefore, make symptoms less severe. The key is to find methods that work for a person's lifestyle. Some people turn to friends or family, while others find that new hobbies or distractions work well.
12. 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. People who practiced mindfulness reported less severe symptoms and a lower perceived burden associated with fibromyalgia.
Meditation may also help reduce stress and anxiety, which are among the most common triggers for fibromyalgia.
13. Complementary therapies
People with fibromyalgia sometimes turn to complementary therapies to manage symptoms. These strategies include:
- massage therapy
- guided imagery
These methods may work for some people and not for others. Research on their effectiveness is mixed. For example, a 2013 review found only low to moderate evidence that acupuncture may improve fibromyalgia symptoms.
Complementary medicine may offer the best results when used alongside traditional treatments.
14. Lifestyle changes
Some lifestyle changes can improve a person's comfort and help them to manage their symptoms. Some examples include:
- using a comfortable but ergonomically sound chair, especially when doing work
- practicing good posture
- good sleep routines, including going to bed around the same time each night
- investing in a comfortable mattress and pillow
15. Working with a supportive medical team
Finding a sympathetic doctor can be key to getting an accurate diagnosis and having treatment tailored to an individual's specific needs.
Feeling heard and understood is critical to unlocking the best possible combination of treatments. A person with fibromyalgia should work with specialists in chronic pain and may wish to switch providers if they feel dismissed or unheard.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic medical condition with no known cure. This means that people with this condition need to create an environment where they can manage their symptoms.
Many people find that their symptoms get better or worse at certain times, or as a result of specific triggers, such as stress and injuries.
Managing fibromyalgia requires finding the right combination of treatments. What works for one person might not work for another, and effective strategies may change with time.
A willingness to experiment and a supportive doctor can help. Be honest about symptoms, and if medication or home remedies are not working, talk to a supportive provider about trying other options.