Fibromyalgia is a condition that presents with chronic pain, tenderness and fatigue.  If left untreated fibromyalgia can reduce a person’s quality of life which often leads to depression. There is no imagining or test that can be performed that will clearly identify if you have fibromyalgia.  Fibromyalgia is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that all other possible diseases have to be ruled out before a diagnosis can be made.  Although diagnosing fibromyalgia is often difficult it is still one of the most common chronic pain conditions.  In fact, over 10 million Americans are affected by this disorder.

Although an exact cause of this disorder is unknown there are several risk factors correlated with developing Fibromyalgia.  Females are approximately three times more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men.  A diagnosis is usually made between the ages of 20-50 and as a person ages the chances of developing fibromyalgia increases.  Severe trauma has also been linked with developing fibromyalgia. It has also been correlated with becoming ill or contracting specific diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. There is a strong genetic component to developing this disorder as well.  Therefore, you are at greater risk of developing fibromyalgia if a closely related family member has developed this disorder in the past.

A person with Fibromyalgia will often complain of specific points on their body that are very painful and tender to the touch. There are 18 common tender points that people who have fibromyalgia complain of.  These tender points range from the knees, hips, back, shoulders, all the way up to the neck.  A person’s symptoms will usually vary; some days may be symptoms free while other days may be filled with debilitating pain. There are a wide range of symptoms a patient may experience; they include chronic fatigue, profound amounts of pain, stiffness, tenderness, restless sleep, irritable bowel and bladder and depression. Often these symptoms can create a vicious cycle.  Wide spread tenderness and stiffness can result in difficulty sleeping which can promote chronic fatigue and lead to worsening depression and a lower quality of life.  In addition, not knowing how to treat and cope with fibromyalgia can lead to anxiety and increase stress levels which can leave a person feeling distraught.

Fortunately physical therapy is a method that can help increase the amount of “good” days a patient experiences and lessen the amount of “bad” days.  Research has proven that physical therapy can provide a significant reduction in symptoms and an improvement in quality of life for people struggling with Fibromyalgia.  This can be accomplished by multiple methods.  At first a patient with fibromyalgia may be too sensitive to tolerate exercises on land.  This is where aquatic therapy comes into play.  Research has shown that performing aquatic therapy three times a week can reduce a patient’s symptoms significantly.  This is because the overall amount of pressure that is placed upon the joints is reduced when a person is submerged in water. This increases the patient’s tolerance for exercise.  In addition, the warm water can help increase blood flow to the muscles which can loosen stiff joints and accelerate the healing process. The water also provides resistance which helps strengthen the muscles.

As a person’s tolerance for aquatic exercise increase, they will then be gradually transitioned to physical therapy on land.  A physical therapist will first begin by prescribing exercises that help to stretch out stiff muscles without causing an increase level of discomfort.  If a patient is not too sensitive, a physical therapist will focus on using hands on techniques to help decrease any increased muscle tension.

The physical therapist will also focus on increasing aerobic activity and strength training.  Studies have shown patients with chronic pain who begin performing aerobic activity on a consistent basis report reduce levels of pain. This is because during aerobic activity hormones called endorphins are released in the body.  Endorphins are pain fighting hormones that reduce stress, anxiety and even depression.  This doesn’t mean a patient with fibromyalgia needs to become an avid jogger in order to reap the benefits from aerobic activity.  Even walking on a consistent basis will reproduce these beneficial results.  A physical therapist will also provide a patient with pain education and on advice on how to better manage their “bad” days.

As a person’s tolerance for exercise on land increases strength training will then be incorporated.  Strength training on lands provides more resistance to the patient’s muscles than aquatic therapy.  As a patient’s muscles become stronger the amount of force placed on the joints becomes lessened which reduces the amount of pain experience by the patient.  These treatments will result in increased ability to walk further distances, increased energy and patients will be able to perform daily activities with less discomfort.

Living with fibromyalgia can be challenging and at times may seem like an impossible task, but significant improvements in pain reduction, fatigue and quality of life can be made if the patient is motivated and willing to work with a team of health care professionals.  No matter if your goal is to just walk a block without pain or return to running again a physical therapist will work with you to reach your goals.  For more information on physical therapy services visit

If you have been struggling with fibromyalgia make sure to contact Total Performance Physical Therapy for evaluation today.


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