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Self-Help & Coping

Lifestyle Changes

When the symptoms of fibromyalgia seem overwhelming or worse than usual, there are self-help methods to ease your discomfort and make you feel better about yourself. Making certain lifestyle changes will also give you a greater sense of control. Below are just a few examples of self-help strategies you may want to incorporate into your daily care.

Soothing Sore Muscles

Trigger Point Massage: This technique involves applying gentle pressure on the painful knots in your muscles called myofascial trigger points or MTPs. See our article Identifying & Treating MTPs in the section on Muscle Pain Relief. Usually you can feel these knots, especially when they get large and troublesome. Don’t press too hard on the trigger point nodule because it can cause trauma to the muscle and lead to the development of more trigger points. The pressure should only produce a mild discomfort, but not to the point of pain.

You can use your finger, or for hard-to-reach locations, a Thera Cane device can be helpful. Apply gentle pressure for 10 to 15 seconds. You should feel the discomfort melt. Then rotate to other areas until you have worked to reduce the size of your trigger point knots. A Thera Cane can be purchased on Amazon for $35. For a video on how to use this living aide, visit If you can’t afford a Thera Cane, try a tennis ball. Place it between you and a wall, or lay down on it to target specific trigger points on our backside.

Hot Water and Heat Wraps: Shower, hot tub or bath can ease stiffness in the morning and pain before bedtime. To relieve pain and muscle tightness during the middle of the day, use a wrap that can be heated in the microwave and placed on stubborn areas (such as a Bed Buddy for the neck/shoulder region). You can even use the soothing heat to loosen up your muscles so they respond better to gentle stretching or massage.

Air-Activated Heat Pads: Wearing a microwavable heat wrap is not always convenient. The next best approach (although more costly) is to use an air-activated pad that is applied to the area using an adhesive. The most common brand is ThermaCare, but less expensive generics are available. They stick to the area with an adhesive, typically last for 12 hours, and improve circulation to the skin and muscles beneath them.

Topicals: As mentioned in the section on Muscle Pain Relief, you should always have a topical on hand that you have found helpful for easing regional pain. Examples include patches containing lidocaine (4% is over the counter while 5% requires a script) and creams containing menthol, camphor, salicylate (aspirin) or magnesium. If you find something that helps, keep it at home and work.

Hand-Held Massagers/Pads: Go for the “gentler” settings. Also, if you can afford one that supplies heat, that may provide extra pain-relief.

Pacing Activities

Conserve Energy: Fatigue is the second worse symptom of fibromyalgia. You need to learn to set limits, reduce stress, and better manage your time. Pace yourself throughout the day so that you don’t feel like you have been slammed against the wall before dinner. Keep in mind that muscles containing MTP knots will fatigue four times faster than normal. So, if you suspect that energy drain is partly due to muscles that have no power, check our Muscle Pain Relief section for help with getting your MTPs treated.

Move Wisely: Learn ergonomic ways to do tasks that minimize the strain on your muscles and conserve energy. For example, test the weight of grocery bags before you just grab them out of your car trunk. A few extra trips may avert a muscle sprain on top of your widespread pain. Also, don’t hesitate to prop yourself up with pillows to help take the strain of gravity off your achy body.

Time Management: If you have not yet done so, keep a journal of everything you do for one week. Then go through your list of activities and ask yourself: Is this essential, and if so, can I do it differently to expend less time or energy? You will be surprised by how many things just don’t seem important now that you have fibromyalgia. Cut these activities from your daily routine.

Scheduling of Activities: The most important items on your “To Do” list should be scheduled when you feel the best. Research shows that this time is generally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Early mornings are difficult because you are more stiff and achy, while your energy level may plummet before dinner time. Every person is different but take note of when you generally feel the best and schedule important tasks during that window of time.

Rest Breaks: Lie down and zone out two to three times a day for about 10 minutes to recharge your batteries and quiet the chatter in your brain. And, while you are taking a break, focus on slow but deep breathing. It will help relax the tension in your body.

Sleep Schedule

Work with Your Clock: You have an area in your brain called your master clock. It regulates when the sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin, peaks in the evening around 10 p.m. And just like clockwork, your body’s wake-promoting substances are released in the morning around 6 a.m. Ideally, you want to focus on sleep between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Keep Same Schedule: Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule should help optimize the quality of your sleep. Better sleep quality is tied to reduced pain and improved mood in people with fibromyalgia. If falling asleep is troublesome (most fibromyalgia patients find this to be the case), establish a routine that eases you into sleep. For some people, this will include a bath or shower 30-60 minutes before bedtime. For others, soothing music helps. Try to find something that takes your mind off the pain and cancels out the chatter in your brain.

Nighttime Comfort: Most fibromyalgia patients prefer a softer bed. If you can’t afford a new mattress, consider an under-quilt or adding additional foam underneath the mattress cover. On cold nights, heated mattress covers or heated blankets are beneficial (also wear thick socks). The point is, nighttime comfort has a tremendous impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

What to Avoid

Cold Drafts: Just as moist heat helps your muscles relax, cool drafty air tends to cause them to tense up and hurt.

Repetitive Motions: Using the same muscle groups to perform tasks or persistent strain on your postural muscles will make them hurt more. When muscles ache, as they do in fibromyalgia, studies show that they are easier to overload, which leads to more pain.

Leaning Forward: Working with your arms out in front of you or leaning over a computer keyboard may amplify your overall pain. It can also cause strain on your neck, shoulder, and back muscles. Try to find more ergonomic ways to do tasks. For example, when you move, consider stacking your skeleton. This entails keeping your head over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. Maintaining an upright posture and preventing overworked muscles from developing painful MTPs should help reduce minimize pain and muscle fatigue.Unsettling Foods: Irritable stomach and bowel are already common enemies to people with fibromyalgia. If you notice that certain foods in your diet make these symptoms worse, try avoiding them (one at a time) to see if you feel better.

Stress: This word is often overused as the scapegoat for all that ails you. Even though it does not cause fibromyalgia, added mental and physical stress can drain you of energy and make it harder to cope with the pain.

Comfort Aides
Dress for Fibro: Wear loose-fitting clothes and comfortable shoes. Fashionable attire may look terrific on you, but it is how you feel that really counts.

Living Aids: Examples include heated blankets, various pillows to provide lumbar and neck support (even for your car), sole inserts for shoes, comfy stool for places you spend time (e.g., kitchen or garage), or a small stool for the shower (so you can enjoy the warm water without straining muscles). Have a stepstool handy for reaching hard to get objects off top shelves. If you spend lots of time in a car or at a desk, equip it with a few comfort aids.

Positive Outlook

Remain Calm: If you notice your symptoms are getting worse, the best thing you can do is remain calm and tell yourself not to panic. You have been through the ups and downs of fibromyalgia before, so draw on the self-help approaches that have pulled you through past flare-ups.

Avoid Comparisons: It is natural for people to compare their abilities now with what they could do before fibromyalgia came knocking. These types of comparisons will not change anything, but they can really bring you down and hurt your self-esteem.

Be Optimistic: Keeping an optimistic outlook is a 24/7 job. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep and if you find your mood sliding, talk to your doctor about treatment.