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Treatments for Fibromyalgia

Do you have pain from head to toe? Are you tossing and turning throughout the night, unable to sleep? These are common symptoms experienced by patients with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons – the soft fibrous tissues in the body. Most patients with fibromyalgia say that they ache all over. Their muscles may feel like they were pulled or overworked. Sometimes fibromyalgia symptoms include muscle twitches and burning sensations. More women than men are afflicted with fibromyalgia, and it shows up in people of all ages. In the U.S. alone, between three and six million people (predominately women) have a cluster of symptoms which are typical of FMS. Approximately 20% of these people are formally diagnosed with FMS. These individuals experience a combination of poor quality sleep, fatigue, anxiety, stress, whole body stiffness, and gastrointestinal complaints. Changes in weather, cold or drafty environments, infections, allergies, hormonal fluctuations (premenstrual and menopausal states), stress, depression, anxiety and over-exertion may all contribute to fibromyalgia symptom flare-ups.


An official diagnosis of FMS should not be given unless the patient has demonstrated widespread pain for three months or more, in combination with tenderness at eleven or more of eighteen specific tender point sites. Treatment for FMS typically includes medication for pain and poor sleep patterns, education on coping strategies, stress management, nutrition, energy conservation, and the necessity of physical conditioning. Aerobic exercise has been shown to be one of the most beneficial treatments for FMS since patients tend to be physically deconditioned. This deconditioned state promotes a continued cycle of pain, fatigue, and decreased motivation, leading to further inactivity.


According to Anna Helmstetter, an aquatic physical therapist assistant at Progressive Physical Therapy, aquatic physical therapy is a very effective treatment for FMS. The buoyancy provided in water allows patients to perform aerobic exercise without the weight-bearing and joint compression experienced on land. Patients also experience muscle relaxation and increased range of motion from the neutral warmth (92°-94°F) offered by a therapeutic pool. Research shows that FMS patients who participate in a regular aquatic exercise program can break that pattern of inactivity, and recapture control over their own symptoms.


Long term follow-up studies on FMS have shown that it is chronic, but the symptoms may wax and wane. The impact FMS has on daily living activities, including the ability to work a full-time job, differs among patients. However, appropriate treatment can make all the difference in management of FMS symptoms.


For additional information regarding the aquatics program at Progressive Physical Therapy, call the office at (301) 729-3485 or visit our website at


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