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Lisa's Story

Facing Fibromyalgia
Lisa M., Texas

"Fibromyalgia is not a death sentence, although the pain may take a harsh toll on your emotional and physical resources."

In October of 1995, I was driving to a family event when a car ran a red light and hit me broadside. The resulting neck and back injuries were very painful and became worse over time instead of getting better. Rather than healing, the pain spread, becoming increasingly debilitating, and moving down my arms and into my hands.

This pain was devastating on several fronts. Because I am a writer, my ability to earn a living was threatened, and I was soon laid off from my job. My active social life ground to a halt because I rarely felt like going out and could not sit still for long periods of time without becoming more stiff and sore. I had to quit a weightlifting program and martial arts lessons. And the sheer amount of energy that is drained by chronic pain left me with little to give my family or friends. Sleep deprivation became a way of life. I was baffled as to how to get better.

About six months after the accident, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), a condition that is characterized by muscle pain and stiffness, joint pain, flu-like body aches, intolerance to heat and cold, headaches, and extreme fatigue.

Although doctors do not know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, significant strides in research have been made in the last ten years. Many doctors regard fibromyalgia as a pain perception disorder. It often develops after a person has experienced painful physical trauma, such as injuries from an automobile accident or surgery, or following an illness, especially viral infections.

Poor sleep quality can be a precipitating factor, since your body does its healing and repair work in the deepest stages of sleep. Lack of sleep can also be a long-term result of fibromyalgia, which sends the patient into a cycle of pain, inability to sleep because of pain, and more pain.

There are a number of medications that are used to treat fibromyalgia; none constitute a cure, but are prescribed in an effort to manage the condition. It is usually a matter of trial-and-error to determine the best combination for any given individual. The pain of fibromyalgia is not responsive to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain remedies.

In the three years since the accident, I have learned the best ways to manage my own condition, and have been able to resume a virtually normal lifestyle. If I were to give any advice to a newly diagnosed FM patient, the first thing I would say is not to give up! Fibromyalgia is not a death sentence, although the pain may take a harsh toll on your emotional and physical resources. It is very, very important to seek out a healthcare professional that is familiar with FMS and its treatment. A surprising number of doctors are still not well-versed in the diagnosis and treatment of FMS. Those that do specialize in its treatment are often rheumatologists, neurologists or pain management specialists.

It is important to arm yourself with as much information as possible in order to participate effectively in your own treatment. In my experience, gentle exercise has proven to be the key to optimum pain management. It is undeniably hard to keep a consistent exercise regime going; when every muscle in your body hurts, the last thing you want to do is exercise. But you absolutely must stay active to keep from becoming debilitated. That is where self-determination becomes a factor.

I have found that gentle and controlled stretching exercises are most beneficial, along with moderate aerobic exercise such as walking. Strength training with minimal weight is also important. There are many excellent muscle-training exercises one can do at home; I recommend talking to a physical therapist to work out an optimum exercise regimen that keeps you conditioned and flexible without exacerbating the pain. Allowing yourself to become physically deconditioned leads to increased pain and likelihood of injury in day-to-day activities.

It is important to know and respect the limits of your body, without asking too little of it. And by all means, enlist the help and support of your family and friends. When they see that you are determined to contribute to your own self-care, then they are more likely to be understanding and have respect for your limitations.

Lisa M.
This is a personal anecdotal experience and should not be viewed as medical fact or advice.
Date Published: May 31, 1999

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