Dealing with the chronic pain of fibromyalgia?It may feel like you are in an unending bad dream.
This condition is frequently misunderstood. And people often experience depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness as a result. Living with chronic pain can be challenging.
Besides the physical pain, you may lose sleep and feel exhausted because of your illness. Medications aren’t right for everyone, especially those with long-term health issues who worry about side effects. So, a psychologist can help with fibromyalgia and recommend suitable treatment. The good news is that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a proven way to relieve pain and improve your quality of life.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a long-term condition that causes pain in muscles and joints throughout the body. It’s not known why this happens but abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain may play a role. The brain’s pain receptors seem to develop a memory of painful stimuli and become hypersensitive to almost all signals.
Another possibility is that fibromyalgia runs in families. In some cases, the illness may stem from serious injury, infection, bereavement or similar intense, traumatic events. Other people may develop fibromyalgia symptoms gradually with no obvious trigger. It is more common for women than men to have a fibromyalgia diagnosis. You may also be more likely to develop FMS if you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary between people. When the problem lasts for three months or more it’s diagnosed as chronic.
The main symptom is widespread pain and stiffness. This occurs on both sides of the body and anywhere from your neck to your legs.
The pain is usually characterised as a continuous dull ache. It can be a severe burning or stabbing pain from time to time. The variation in sensations may be due to physical activity levels, stress and environmental factors like the weather. People with FMS often have other symptoms.
Memory and concentration problems (‘fibro fog’)
Confusion or talking slowly
Sleep disruption, insomnia or sleep apnea
Restless legs syndrome
Pelvic pain and bladder problems (interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome)
Fatigue (from tiredness through to exhaustion)
Migraine or tension headaches
Increased sensitivity to pain, touch and hot or cold temperatures
Feeling dizzy or clumsy
Temporomandibular joint disorders (facial and/or jaw pain)
Abnormal heart-rate increases when rising from sitting or lying down (postural tachycardia syndrome)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Fibromyalgia syndrome is difficult to treat due to its many symptoms.
A GP will normally give patients a diagnosis of fibromyalgia after blood tests have ruled out other diseases with similar symptoms. Talk to your doctor to help choose what treatments may be best.
Although there is no cure for FMS, medications that control nerve/muscle pain and other symptoms are available.
Other beneficial treatments for fibromyalgia include:
Gentle pain-relieving exercises
No single treatment works for all symptoms, but you can achieve relief by trying various strategies.
There’s also no definitive answer on whether fibromyalgia triggers anxiety and depression – or if psychological problems contribute to causing FMS. But we do know there’s a strong link between pain and poor mental health. One of the leading psychological treatments for fibromyalgia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It’s a type of talking therapy, which we take a closer look at below.
How does CBT work to treat fibromyalgia?
With fibromyalgia, we will often choose CBT over other forms of psychological therapy.
This is because it helps patients become more confident in their ability to control their condition. CBT enables people to change their negative mindset about pain and related problems. Studies of fibromyalgia patients found that CBT reduces pain and low mood at least as effectively as medication does. In this way, we aim to use CBT to address both psychological and physical symptoms. It’s also worth pointing out that a psychological therapy recommendation doesn’t imply the illness is ‘all in the mind’.
Cognitive behavioural therapy for fibromyalgia usually involves three phases:
We give patients facts about their condition to dispel inaccurate or contradictory observations they may have picked up. Included in this are details of possible causes and the importance for patients to participate actively in treatment.
This phase teaches techniques to reduce pain:
– How to gradually increase your activity levels without pushing yourself too far (which is counterproductive with FMS)
– Improve sleep habits
– Coping with pain-related thoughts
– How to handle any other practical or emotional concerns connected to chronic pain.
Helping apply what you’ve learned to everyday life. This involves assignments done at home, based on the skills from phase 2, and tailored to your needs.
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Given the complexity of fibromyalgia, it is well worth turning to a specialist for the most effective treatment options. At Kove, we use an evidence-based, holistic approach. Our clinical psychologists provide highly-effective treatments for patients with fibromyalgia and underlying issues connected to the condition. We can help you find a way to live with less pain, leading a healthier, higher-quality life. Contact us today to learn more.
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