Physical therapy and fibromyalgia

By Joseph M. Harris, PT, ATC, CEAS - President/Clinical Director - Physical Therapy Solutions, PSC

Fibromyalgia is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. It is an arthritis-related disease characterized by generalized muscle and joint pain and fatigue. Anxiety or depression and tender points often accompany fatigue and muscle and joint pain as symptoms.

Fibromyalgia causes a person to ache all over and will disturb a person’s sleep. A person with fibromyalgia may experience swelling and specific tender points over the body. Other symptoms include headache, abdominal pain, and hypersensitivity to cold or hot, incontinence, irritable bowel, stiffness, numbness and tingling in the feet or hands, and dryness of the mouth, nose, or eyes.

While we are not sure what causes fibromyalgia, there are a number of theories. Some link it to hormonal imbalances, stress, trauma, or heredity. We just aren’t sure yet as to the cause. However, we do see the condition occur more in women. Women get fibromyalgia 10 times more often than men do.

Physical therapy is effective in the treatment of fibromyalgia in a number of ways. Physical therapists teach people how to manage their condition and live with less pain and stiffness. Physical therapists will help fibromyalgia patients learn what activities cause their fibromyalgia to worsen and how to modify their lifestyle to avoid these activities. A physical therapist will assess posture and educate the patient about proper posture. The physical therapist will also teach patients stretching and strengthening exercises that are safe for their particular condition. Improved overall fitness level has been shown to be beneficial to the fibromyalgia patient. Massage, ice, and heat also help to reduce stiffness and pain.

There is no known cause for fibromyalgia, but physical therapy can relieve the symptoms and teach people to live and work while managing their symptoms. Stretching exercises with light resistance and aerobic exercises have been shown to benefit the fibromyalgia patient. Other treatments include medication and relaxation exercises.

By Joseph M. Harris, PT, ATC, CEAS

President/Clinical Director

Physical Therapy Solutions, PSC

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