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Cornelius News

Fibromyalgia: Puzzling and painful


It started in 1981, the achy feeling, not pain, but discomfort, feeling like she’d done a hard physical workout but not having done a thing. She bounced from a rheumatologist to a neurologist but no one knew what to say.  She was told that she was suffering from stress and depression, but completely denied having either.  It was much different than that, but just what it was, was the question.  Finally, in 1984, the same day after being tested positively for 12 out of 18 pressure points, a diagnosis was made and she was told she had Fibromyalgia. In 1984, this was an unknown, unheard of disease, and not really a disease, more like a condition.

ahern_seniorscolumnNot wanting to spend a lifetime on drugs, she opted to manage her symptoms by herself and discovered that she could be fine by just being careful of her activity level, what she ate, and how she slept. Now, 35 years later, her symptoms haven’t gotten any worse, but haven’t gotten any better either. She is not in pain but is uncomfortable and the discomfort has different levels, and different times. She often feels stiff but must make a conscious effort to relax.  Methods like deep breathing and even Tai Chi work for her.

Fibromyalgia can be a puzzling and painful condition. It can take a powerful toll on health, well-being, and quality of life. “People with fibromyalgia suffer from severe, daily pain that is widespread throughout the body,” says Dr. Leslie J. Crofford, an NIH-supported researcher at Vanderbilt University. “Their pain is typically accompanied by debilitating fatigue, sleep that does not refresh them, and problems with thinking and memory.”

What causes fibromyalgia isn’t fully understood. “We know that people with fibromyalgia have changes in the communication between the body and the brain,” Crofford says. These changes may lead the brain to interpret certain sensations as painful that might not be bothersome to people without the disorder.

Medications may help relieve some but not all symptoms of fibromyalgia. “Drug treatments by themselves don’t result in remission or cure of fibromyalgia,” says Crofford. “We’ve learned that exercise may work as well as or better than medications. In addition, therapies such as tai chi, yoga, and cognitive behavior therapy can also help to reduce symptoms.”

“It’s critically important for healthcare providers to help patients develop an understanding of fibromyalgia, and to provide realistic information about treatments, with an emphasis on using exercise and other physical therapies in conjunction with medications,” Crofford says. Here are some tips for feeling better with Fibromyalgia

Get enough sleep

Getting the right kind of sleep can help ease pain and fatigue. However, individuals with fibromyalgia already tend to have difficulties getting restful sleep and these problems can worsen with age. Some other suggestions include: don’t take naps after 4 pm and limit them to a half an hour; cut back on caffeine.  Take a calcium and magnesium supplement at bedtime, and with your doctor’s permission, half a milligram of melatonin, a gentle, naturally occurring hormone that promotes sleep.


Regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia, as long as it is not overdone.  Individuals may experience more side effects, such as dizziness, from their fibromyalgia medicines and this can make certain workouts, particularly those that require balance or a lot of exertion, less possible. A complementary health approach using practices such as tai chi, qi gong, yoga, massage therapy, and acupuncture may help relieve some symptoms.

Good nutrition

Some deficiencies such as low magnesium and vitamin D levels can exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms. It’s wise to take a multivitamin that contains close to 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for B vitamins, magnesium and zinc, as well as an additional vitamin D supplement, all of which are well tolerated with fibromyalgia medications.

Joanne, who lives in Magnolia Estates, is the Director of the North Mecklenburg Senior Center, affiliated  with the Mecklenburg County Park and Rec Department.  She can be reached at 980-314-1127.