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Fibromyalgia is a common condition that affects each person differently. Many people will experience long-term symptoms such as high levels of pain and tenderness over many areas of their body.  Fibromyalgia can be really scary and impact many aspects of a person’s life.  The good news is that your muscles, bones or joints are not damaged but have become sensitive over time. 

Common causes

We currently do not know the exact cause of fibromyalgia. It can sometimes occur without any obvious reason. A number of factors have been associated with Fibromyalgia. These include:

  • Infections, viral illnesses, post-surgery pain or following a traumatic injury.
  • Your genetics (e.g., a family member may have similar symptoms such as longstanding pain).
  • Your environment (e.g., traumatic early life events or ongoing/significant periods of stress).
  • A sudden increase or decrease in your normal activity or exercise levels.
  • Other conditions such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Following a period of increased stress, worry or low mood.
  • Following a period of poor sleep, fatigue or feeling run down.
  • Other lifestyle factors such as being overweight and smoking.
  • A flare up of longstanding persistent pain or Fibromyalgia.

Common symptoms

These include:

  • Pain in many areas of the body (usually neck, shoulders, back and pelvis but can also involve your arms and or legs).
  • Tender muscles and or feelings of aching, soreness, stiffness burning, stabbing and electric shocks.
  • Feeling sensitive to touch, light, sounds and temperature (heat/cold).
  • Tiredness (often extreme) and poor unrefreshing sleep.
  • Dizziness, headaches, jaw pain, irritable bowel syndrome or tummy pain and restless legs and/or cramping.
  • ‘Brain fog’ - difficulty with memory, concentrating and finding words.
  • Feeling low in mood, frustrated, anxious, worried and/or overwhelmed.
  • Your nervous system may have become very sensitive (on high alert) to many things that previously didn’t affect you.

You may experience ongoing symptoms, that may be aggravated by certain activities, and may be reduced by others, or for no obvious reason.

What can I do to help it?

It’s very important to understand these facts about Fibromyalgia:

  • Your symptoms are all REAL and NOT in your mind.
  • It is rarely a sign of harm or damage - instead your nervous system has become very sensitive and is in a state of HIGH ALERT.
  • Scans and x-rays DO NOT tell us how much pain you are experiencing and are often unhelpful. However, blood tests might help to check for other conditions. 
  • Activity and exercise may be painful but are SAFE and will NOT cause you harm or damage.
  • Resting and avoiding activity is NOT helpful in the long run.
  • Letting your symptoms guide your levels of activity can lead to a boom-bust cycle of being over and under active which can increase your symptoms.
  • Treating the painful area(s) may only help a little in the short term. This is because triggers for Fibromyalgia are often related to both physical and non-physical factors.
  • Finding out some of these triggers by looking at things like your sleep patterns, activity levels and the way you react to stress, may help you to understand and manage your symptoms.

Try some of these self-help tips.

  • Apply a heat or icepack to the painful areas (for up to 15 minutes). Never apply heat or ice directly to the skin.
  • Relaxation (e.g., breathing) techniques may help your muscles become less sensitive and calm your nervous system.
  • Keep trying to move regularly. This is safe and helpful for your pain in the long run. It is important to build up gradually – the exercise or activity you enjoy most, is likely to help your recovery.
  • Building a good sleep pattern by setting a regular sleep time, using relaxation techniques, and reducing the use of electronic devices (phones and tablets) just before bed.
  • Breaking down activities into smaller chunks may help avoid doing too much in one go which may cause a flare of pain and fatigue.
  • Try not to feel guilty for taking a rest break, this may help you to control your symptoms better.
  • If you are feeling isolated although it may seem difficult, try and make contact with friends, family, healthcare professionals and or join a local support group (see below).

When should I seek medical advice?

Call your GP surgery if

  • Your pain is getting worse.
  • You have tried the self-help tips for 3-4 weeks and are struggling to manage an increase in your pain or other symptoms.
  • You have been prescribed medication that is not helping you manage your symptoms after an appropriate time period.
  • You notice new symptoms that may be worrying you.
  • You would like further support to develop a long-term management plan.  This can be offered by a range of health professionals at the GP surgery including the GP, FCP (Specialist Physiotherapist), nurse practitioner, clinical pharmacist and social prescriber.



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