Fibromyalgia Treatments Without Drugs

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

While medications can be very helpful as treatments for fibromyalgia, I feel that they are frequently only a part of the program. I have a little pearl that I use to remember the non-drug treatments that can be essential for optimal outcomes, and especially in monitoring, of patients with fibromyalgia.

It goes a little something like this: I give them candy before I address medications. The candy I use is SEE'S. And the letters in the name of this candy stand for important non-drug issues that I regularly address with my patients with fibromyalgia:

Stress reduction: Many patients with fibromyalgia either have stressful situations that aggravate their condition or underlying emotional issues that need to be appreciated and monitored. We work together to optimize these situations on an ongoing basis. Sometimes this involves simple counseling, other times it can include medications either temporarily or over the long term.

Education: An essential part of empowering patients with fibromyalgia to care for themselves is understanding why they can appear normal when they, nevertheless, can have significant functional impairments. This involves a consultation with the doctor and providing medical information for the patient to review at home, both on their own and perhaps with family members.

Exercise: Physical activity has been shown by researchers for decades to be beneficial for patients with fibromyalgia. Each exercise program requires a degree of customization for each individual according to their capabilities. Exercise can help to promote proper restorative sleep that is so frequently deficient in patients with fibromyalgia. It also reduces stress, promotes general health, and affords a sense of well-being. Sometimes physical therapists play a role in organizing exercise programs.

Sleep: The medical community has known for years that the deeper levels of sleep, restorative non-rapid-eye-movement (non-REM) sleep, is commonly inadequate in patients with fibromyalgia. Correcting sleep problems can wonderfully reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia, not only fatigue but also muscle pains. Sometimes doctors obtain sleep studies to investigate sleep quality. Occasionally, medications are temporarily used as part of the combination therapy for sleep promotion.

While there are many effective drug treatments for fibromyalgia, it is important for patients and their doctors to appreciate the non-drug treatments discussed above.

Finally, I am sure Mary See, the originator of See's Candies, would be pleased by the fact that her legacy has left comfort to many in ways she never imagined!

For more information on fibromyalgia, please take a look at MedicineNet's Fibromyalgia Slideshow.

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