Things You’ve Got to Try: Moist Heat

hot tub water

This is one of those pieces of advice it took me way too long to follow.

It took me about ten years between the time my friend first suggested it to me in high school, and the time I actually tried out a heating pad with moist-heat capabilities.

All this time, I thought I was getting the same benefits from taking hot showers, or spending time in the hot tub at my gym.  After all, both of those things involve hot water and some steam.  It’s the same thing, right?

Wrong.

There is something uniquely awesome about a heating pad holding all that steam against your skin.  Steam is, by its very definition, hotter than water in its liquid state.  Sure, there is steam in the bathroom when you’re taking a shower, but it’s floating all over the place and out through the cracks around the door.   The heating pad traps it right against your skin, where it’s harder to escape.

For this reason, a moist heating pad can actually be better than a hot shower or a hot tub.  Granted, it’s not as much of a whole-body experience, but if you are trying relax one specific part of your body, this is what you want.

I just love it because it’s so quick, easy, and cheap.  A spa in a 12″ x 24″ rectangle.

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I was a little nervous at first about combining water and electricity, but the inner cover is completely waterproof.   This is what it looks like with the outer cover removed:

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There is a third part that came with my heating pad—a sponge, that you wet in the sink and then place over the inner cover.  Um… I lost mine.  But it’s no big deal because I’ve found that wet paper towels draped over the inside cover work just as well.

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How to use a moist heating pad:

1) Put a towel down on your bed/chair before you get started.  Not to be gross, but you want your skin to be dripping by the time the thing’s really heated up.

2) Make sure there aren’t any cracks on the inside cover before you use it.  It’s only waterproof when the electrical bits are all sealed up.

3) When you’re done using the heating pad, be sure to wipe the moisture up right away.  When water evaporates from your body, it actually takes heat with it.   (This is why sweating helps to cool us down).   In the winter, you will be cold if you leave the steam on your skin to dry up on its own.

Buying a moist heating pad:

Be sure you get one that says “moist heat” on the box.

This is the heating pad I use: Sunbeam 764-511 King Size Moist/Dry Heating Pad

Make sure you get one with an automatic shut-off!  Moist heat is so relaxing, you will probably fall asleep at least once.

Thoughts/Comments/Questions—let me know! 

“Hot Tub Water” picture courtesy of pacfolly on Flickr.

A little optimism

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It’s been almost two weeks since my surgery, and I am finally starting to feel like myself again.  It’s actually amazing how normal I feel.

When I first got home from the hospital, I felt as though I was returning from another planet.  The extreme pain and sleep deprivation (due to pain before the surgery, and due to the extremely uncomfortable hospital bed after the surgery) had really played tricks on my mind, as had the shock of suddenly losing an ovary.

But I am back.  Still in some pain, and still playing catch-up on sleep, but back.

The weather this weekend was absolutely beautiful.  I had a relatively low-key weekend: visited my grandmother yesterday, and today had a nice afternoon drive with the guy I am dating.  (I don’t intend to get into my dating life too much on this blog, but yes, it is possible to have someone still be into you when your whole life is a mess and you can barely walk).

Anyway, I am feeling good right now, and I just wanted to share that with you all.  I may be walking around with one less internal organ than I was two weeks ago, but you’d never know it.  I feel totally normal.  I guess it’s true what all the doctors and nurses told me: that one ovary really can do the work of two.

Spring is almost here.  I can feel it.  The days are going to start getting longer and longer.  I heard bird calls today that I haven’t heard since the last warm days of fall.  The earth is beginning to warm again.  It’s going to be alright.

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I am so obsessed with the above photo.  It was posted under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License… which basically means I can use it for any purpose as long as I give credit to emaspounder, who posted it on Flickr.  Thank you emaspounder… I have no idea who you are, but this photo inspires me so much.

Face to face with my lack of ab strength

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The only good thing about being out of shape is that it doesn’t take very much to get a good workout.

Ever since I’ve been having my lower back and hip problems, I’ve known that I needed to work on my abs.  I’ve been a physical therapy patient far too many times not to know that.  I knew my abs had to be weak—there’s no way you have back and hip problems and not have weak abs—but I never really noticed it as I went about my daily life.

But something happened that allowed me to see exactly how weak my abs are, and boy, was I surprised.

It was such a simple thing; I tried to float on my back in the pool.

I remember doing this countless times during various swim lessons when I was a child.  It’s not always easy; you have to keep holding your breath so your lungs stay full of air.  But once you learn that, the rest is a piece of cake.

That is, until you’re an adult whose ongoing injuries and physical inactivity have left her with almost no core strength.  It was incredibly hard for me to stay afloat.  My upper body was fine, but trying to keep my hips at the surface of the water quickly wore out the muscles in my abdomen and lower back.

You’d think it would be kind of depressing to realize that your abs are pathetically weak, but for me it was actually an amazing moment of clarity.

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When I first developed hip problems a year and a half ago, I had to stop doing exercises on land.   Everything I did, even my physical therapy exercises, just made me worse and worse as time went on.  Every time I lay down on the floor to try to do some simple movements, I ended up regretting it.  That’s when I followed the advice of my chiropractor and joined a pool.

For the past year, I’ve worked out exclusively in water, and it has seriously made all the difference.  Before the pool, I felt like I was getting worse and worse every week.  Working out in the pool stopped the months-long downward spiral I’d been caught in, and, eventually, I began to get stronger.

But recently I’d begun to feel as though I’d hit a plateau.  I’d made such exponential progress in the beginning, but I was struggling to figure out what I was missing.  They’d told me there was nothing wrong with my spine or joints, that I just needed to build up strength, but it seemed like I’d hit a wall that I had no idea how to get past.

That’s why I am so excited about this discovery.   I had no idea my abs were so weak.   I used to float on my back so easily when I was a kid.  It all makes sense now.  Of course I’m in pain all the time if I am this weak.

This was such a moment of clarity for me.  Sure, it’s a little bit frustrating to realize how supremely out of shape I am, but this is far outweighed by how relieved I am to have some kind of a concrete answer.

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Of course, actually figuring out how to work on my abs is going to be a little bit more difficult.  Ab exercises have always been hard for me—if I do too many, I always seem to end up with lower back pain.

But if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that once I am forced to see something so clearly, there is no way I’m going to be able to ignore it.  Realizing that right now I can’t even float on my back in a pool has made so much more of an impression on me than a physical therapist lecturing me about the importance of ab strength.

I’m going to have to figure this out.  Luckily, for now, I think all I will have to do is… drumroll, please… practice floating on my back.

That’s the one good thing about being extremely out of shape… it doesn’t take much exercise to start seeing improvement.  Since I have no core strength, all I have to do is float on my back for 20 seconds in a pool, and I’ve done a core workout!

So that’s it for now.  If I discover any other amazing core exercises that I don’t give me lower back pain, I’ll be sure to let you know!

**The person in the photo is not me!  It’s just a really great underwater shot that I found on Flickr.  Posted with a Creative Commons license by Ed.ward

Know your enemy

art of war

Have you ever had a totally disappointing experience seeing a specialist for help with chronic pain/fibromyalgia?  I certainly have… many times.  Fellow pain sufferers, we are fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously.

I found this article today written by a rheumatologist on why he doesn’t want to treat fibromyalgia patients any longer.  He basically sounds like a jerk… but a smart jerk. I’m posting the link to what he wrote because it provides a look into what some of these doctors are thinking while they’re brushing us off.

The article is by Dr. John Luetkemeyer, a rheumatologist in Florida who tries to “weed” fibromyalgia patients out of his practice as quickly as he can, unless they have proven “they are willing to do the things that might be successful in improving their quality of life.”

I’ve never met Dr. Luetkemeyer, but I might as well have.  I feel like this letter could have been written by any one of the many unsympathetic doctors I’ve seen over the years.  Unfortunately, I’ve gotten this kind of response from people in multiple specialties, including pain management, the specialty he suggests ought to be responsible for fibromyalgia patients.  He makes a good point though, that pain specialists might be more effective “if only we could get them to put their needles down long enough to actually treat the pain and the patient.”

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There is a great rebuttal at the end of the piece, written by Dr. Murray Sokolof.  I’ve obviously never met him either, but he sounds like my kind of doctor.  He writes, “I found many of Dr Luetkemeyer’s remarks and opinions quite disturbing and even offensive. He certainly does not speak for me.”  Right on, Dr. S.

The most interesting part of the whole piece, I thought, was Dr. Sokolof’s reference to opioid pain medications.  He says,

“It has occurred to me that if I were not able to use opioids in the management of fibromyalgia, then I, too, would lose interest in taking care of these patients. Opioids are to fibromyalgia what corticosteroids are to rheumatoid arthritis. We try to avoid them if possible, but when they are necessary—which is often—we should employ them. Maybe, just maybe, Dr Luetkemeyer refuses to give these patients opioids for whatever reason. If that is the case, I could understand his frustration and his decision not to treat these patients.”

Yes.  That summarizes my thoughts on opioids exactly.  They definitely have their drawbacks, but when you are in extreme pain, there is simply nothing that will compare to them, or take their place.  I do not take them on a regular basis, but they were a godsend when I hurt my back a few years ago.

The reason I am sharing this article with you is that most doctors, in my opinion, think like Dr. Leutkemeyer.  They might be a little bit nicer than him, but I think most of them think that there are simple lifestyle changes that fibromyalgia patients need to make, like exercising more or sleeping better, and that all of their symptoms will get better if they make those changes.  He writes,

“If fibromyalgia is the label to be used, it is my belief that ‘a jog around the block or 20 laps in the pool can make a dent’ in the low pain threshold and poor sleep pattern hypothesized in fibromyalgia. I also stress the importance of patients being responsible for their therapy (exercise, stress reduction) and not to rely on my prescription pad.”

I mean, exercise and adequate sleep are both great, but for many people, it is never that simple.

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I found this article interesting simply because it’s best to know what you’re up against.  Know your enemy, they say.  Don’t feel bad about yourself, or take it personally if a doctor gives you the brush off.   He had already made up his mind about fibromyalgia sufferers long before you walked in the door.

Does this article remind you of any doctors you’ve met in your own life?  Were they helpful/not helpful?  Let me know what you think!

**Update: I think some readers might be having trouble with the link.  If you’re getting stuck on a log-in screen, try Googling “Rheumatologists should not deal with fibromyalgia” (the title of the article).  Medscape is so weird sometimes, it’s like you can gain access if you come from a search engine, but not from a direct link.  Why that is, I wish I knew.

**The photo I chose for this post made me laugh.  I believe “Know Your Enemy” comes from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”  Thanks to Bob Massa on Flickr for making the photo available through Creative Commons.**

Arsenic levels in rice… too high for comfort.

brown rice

This was all over the news a few months ago, but in case you missed it, Consumer Reports published a report in November 2012 showing surprisingly high levels of arsenic in dozens of brands of rice and rice products.  This is not good news for people who eat a gluten-free diet, or for people who just plain eat a lot of rice.

Arsenic is a chemical element that exists naturally in the earth’s crust.  It is toxic to humans, affecting the nerves, heart, and blood vessels, and is a known carcinogen.  Arsenic is nothing new– it has been around for the duration of our evolutionary history.  But all of the human activities of the past few centuries– farming, mining, construction– have disturbed the ground and allowed higher levels of arsenic to seep into our soil and water.  Arsenic is also found in many pesticides, which is why it ends up in even higher concentrations on rice farms.

The Food and Drug Administration currently does not have any restrictions on arsenic levels in food, however there is a limit for the maximum allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water.  This is currently set at 10 parts per billion (ppb), although the Environmental Protection Agency originally requested it be set at 5 ppb.  Consumer Reports says,

“Using the 5-ppb standard in our study, we found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.”

This is scary, especially when you consider that people on a gluten-free diet and those who eat traditional cultural diets which rely heavily upon rice are going to have way more than one serving of rice a day.

Now, all of the articles I’ve read on this subject have been quick to point out that there haven’t yet been any studies published proving that higher levels of rice consumption leads to health drawbacks.  But it’s pretty obvious that’s because no one knew about the high levels of arsenic until now.  It’s not as if there have been any studies proving that high levels of rice consumption doesn’t have any health consequences.  I would bet money that there are researchers submitting grant proposals right now for funding to examine this very issue.

Until those studies start to be published, I think it’s best that people don’t make rice a cornerstone of their diet.  Here are some of the best pieces of advice that I’ve gathered from various articles on how to deal with this issue.

  • Limit Rice Consumpion.  Consumer Reports suggests that adults eat no more than 1.5 cups of cooked rice per week, and kids no more than 1 cup.  Honestly, if I had kids of my own, they wouldn’t be getting any rice until at least the age of 10.  Even small amounts of a toxin are a big deal when they’re in a smaller body.
  • Eat a variety of foods.  FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement, “Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains – not only for good nutrition, but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.”  While I think Ms. Hamburg may have been downplaying the potential risks of rice, she is right that the best approach is to eat a variety of foods, and that includes where those foods are grown.  We never really know what gets into our food, even when it is grown on an organic farm (acid rain, anyone?) so it can’t hurt to switch up which company you buy your food from.  In case there are contamination issues at a particular farm, shipping truck, or warehouse, you’re just kind of lowering your odds of being exposed to more chemicals over time by switching up what you eat.  Not only should we be eating a variety of different foods, but we should be buying a variety of brands and switching it up.  In other words, you shouldn’t just buy one brand of pasta that you’ve decided you like and eat it for your entire life.  Better to rotate brands.
  • Choose white rice over brown.   Unfortunately, Consumer Reports found that brown rice contained higher levels of arsenic than white rice.  This was true for every brand they tested.  This is because much of the arsenic collects in the outer shell of the rice grain.  This outer shell contains the extra nutrients and fiber that generally make brown rice a healthier choice than white rice.  When you remove the shell from brown rice to make white rice, you are removing a lot of the arsenic.  (Unfortunately, you are also removing a lot of the nutrients and fiber that generally make brown rice a healthier choice than white rice).
  • Avoid rice grown in the US South.  According to Consumer Reports, rice grown in different areas is likely to have different levels of arsenic.  In general, rice grown in the US South tends to have higher levels of the toxin because the rice is grown in a lot of areas that were once cotton farms.  Those areas were heavily sprayed with arsenic-containing pesticides to combat the boll-weevil.
  • Choose aromatic rice.  According to the Chicago Tribune, “Imported basmati and jasmine rices showed about half to one-eighth the level of arsenic as regular rices grown in the Southern U.S.”
  • Aromatic rice grown in Bangladesh has been shown to have markedly low levels of arsenic.  Of course, it’s not so simple as walking into a supermarket and finding “low arsenic Bangladeshi rice” on the shelf, but maybe it will be in the future.
  • Wash rice thoroughly.  Several of the articles I found mentioned this.  Apparently, the FDA has found that washing rice thoroughly can reduce arsenic levels by 50-60%.  The Chigago Tribune quotes Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumer Reports, who explains that he cooks and drains rice similar to pasta. “‘We say to use about 6 parts water to 1 part rice… And then drain off the water after it’s done.'”
  • Remember the other gluten-free grains.  There are lots of other yummy grains out there… at least, they’re yummy when you cook them right.  Some good choices are potatoes, corn, oats (the ones that are specifically labelled gluten-free) and buckwheat.  Yes, buckwheat is gluten-free.  Next time you’re in a Thai restaurant, order buckwheat pad thai (aka pad thai soba)… it’s so amazing.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Hope this article was helpful!

Rice photo courtesy of sweetbeatandgreenbean on Flickr.

The Scam of “Muscle Energy Testing”

muscles of back

I’ve seen numerous “alternative medicine” providers perform something they call “muscle testing” or “muscle energy testing” many times as part of their sales pitch.  They tell you to put one arm out in front of you, and then push down on your arm.  Your arm sinks immediately.

Then they ask you a question, or put some kind of substance or herbal remedy in your opposite hand, and repeat the “test.”  Your arm always stays up better the second time.  The explanation the quacks will give you is that your body “knows what is best for it” and that your arm is somehow “in tune with the universe” enough to know that what you’re holding in your opposite hand will help you.

As this video points out, none of this is true.  The reason your arm does a better job of resisting the force the second time around is simply because your body has learned what to expect.  As John Duffy, the physical therapist in the video, points out, this represents “simple motor learning.”  In the video, he uses his “magic pen” as a joke to represent the “treatments” that some unethical “alternative health” providers con people into taking using this test.

This video was originally posted on the Phoenix Rehabilitation and Health Services, Inc. Facebook page.  I am including the link to view it on the blog Forward Thinking PT because that is where I originally viewed it, and it seemed to come out in a higher quality there.  (Although I have to admit that this may have more to do with the fact that my computer is ancient than anything else…).

Thanks to EUSKALANATO on Flickr for making the above photo available.

Understanding pain as your body’s alarm system

pretty fire

In my experience, the key to learning to work with your pain instead of against it is to learn to view pain as your body’s alarm system.

In the developed world, most of us are privileged enough to have very little experience with pain.  As children, we only feel pain when we’re at the doctor’s office getting a shot, or when we fall down and skin our knees.  We come to the conclusion that our bodies are designed for us to come to: that pain means something is wrong. 

The truth is that pain a bit more complicated than that.  What I learned from pain neurophysiology education is that pain is the body’s alarm system.  It not only warns us when something is wrong, but when the body thinks something might go wrong.  To help you better understand this, I’ve collected the following anecdotes:

Pain can stop you from injuring yourself

In his amazing online lectures that I think everyone should watch, Neil Pearson instructs his audience to extend one index finger straight up in the air, and then use the index finger of the other hand to slowly bend the first finger backwards.  It doesn’t take long for this to hurt; however, your finger hasn’t actually been damaged.  The pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop, because if you keep going, it will be damaged.

The body’s protective mechanisms don’t always work perfectly.  Case in point: thirst.

There are many ways that our body can warn us to do something, or not to do something.  Thirst is another example.

Thirst is largely controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.  This part of the brain has a “thirst center” which measures the ratio of blood cells to water in your blood.  When the percentage of water dips below a certain point, your brain tells you are thirsty.

In his book Painful Yarns, Lorimer Moseley explains how thirst is not as accurate a measure of hydration as we generally believe.  He tells the story of two individuals whose car broke down in the middle of the Australian Outback.  They nearly died of dehydration.  When they were finally rescued, they drank until their stomachs were full of water and then told their rescuers they weren’t thirsty.  In fact, they were still severely dehydrated: most of the water they had consumed was still in their stomachs, not circulating in their bloodstream where it could do them any good.

What had happened is that the act of drinking up all that water had temporarily overridden the thirst signals their brains were sending.  The thirst mechanism is designed to get us to drink, and they had drunk all the water their bodies could handle at that moment.  They were still severely dehydrated, yet they weren’t thirsty.

The essence of what I’m trying to say here is that pain and thirst are mechanisms the body uses to get us to take action in some way.  Neither one is always an accurate indicator of exactly what is happening in the body.  They are a sign that the body wants us to do something.

Your body can block out pain signals when something else is more important.

One last thing to know about the pain alarm system is that your body can override it if your survival is in jeopardy.  If you are caught in a situation where your life is in danger, your nervous system might decide it is more important for you to focus on what’s going on around you than what’s going on inside your body.

Neil Pearson gives a great example of this.  He tells the story of a patient he once treated who had been hit by a drunk driver on the way to work.  He woke up upside down in his burning car, and realized he had lost an arm in the accident.

The man managed to extricate himself from the car, collect his missing arm, and walk back up to the side of the highway all without feeling any pain. 

As Neil explains, it’s not as if the nerves in his arm weren’t sending his brain any signals; they were sending signals like crazy.  But his brain knew there were more important things to focus on: retrieving the arm, getting away from the fire, and getting help as soon as possible.  Once he was safely in the ambulance, his brain knew his immediate survival was no longer in question and pain signals set in with a vengeance.

In Conclusion

Pain is your body’s alarm system.  It is not there to give you accurate readings, at all times, of what is going in your body. Rather, it has been designed by millions of years of evolution to get you to change your course of action if your body thinks you need to do something differently.

In the case of people with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, this alarm system has begun to malfunction.  When the body goes through a painful, traumatic experience, it can change the way the nervous system works.  The pain alarm system can become overactive, and your nerves start sending you pain signals at odd times, or all the time, even when nothing is physically wrong.

This isn’t an intuitive process.  As I discusses earlier, pain signals are designed to make us think something is wrong.  Our biology leads us to believe that the amount of pain we feel is equal to the amount of physical damage we have incurred.  But when you begin to understand, on a conscious level, that pain doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong, you can begin to break the cycle of chronic pain.  (I’ll be talking about how in subsequent posts).

Sources:

Beautiful fire picture courtesy of Loving Earth on Flickr.

Do you need to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia to be successfully treated?

For years I thought I needed to find a doctor to diagnose me with and treat me for fibromyalgia.  I sought out various pain specialists; physiatrists and anesthesiologists, the heads of departments.  Some of them even listed fibromyalgia among their clinical interests, which I thought was sure to be a good sign.

Yet every time I actually got into the exam room and asked one of those doctors if I had fibromyalgia, the response was vague.  “I don’t know, I don’t generally diagnose people with fibromyalgia,” was the general answer I got.

After so many doctors in pain management failed to help me, I got it into my head that maybe I needed to see a rheumatologist.  I had done a lot of reading about fibromyalgia online and learned that they often treated patients with this condition.  Of course, I ended up getting the rheumatologist who tells his patients “there’s no such thing as fibromyalgia.”

After all this time, I have never actually found a doctor who treats patients for fibromyalgia. Yet between an amazing physical therapist, some sympathetic doctors who were able to help me anyway, and a lot of persistence and research on my part, I have managed to transform my life into something that is (for the most part) pretty darn good.

I am writing this post for people who might be stuck in the same position I was once in.  If you can’t find a doctor to diagnose you with fibromyalgia, that’s okay.  You can still get all of the same treatments without an official diagnosis.  You will just have to do a lot of your own research and advocate for yourself.

Understanding Fibromyalgia

To understand fibromyalgia, you need to know that research is increasingly pointing to central sensitization as its cause.  Central sensitization refers to the changes that happen to a person’s nervous system to increase his or her sensitivity to pain and other stimuli.  These changes are part of a very complex process that science doesn’t yet fully understand, and no one knows why it happens to one person versus another.  Generally, this process is thought to occur after the body goes through some kind of traumatic physical event, such as injury or surgery.  It is also common among people who have an inflammatory condition such as lupus or arthritis, because their daily experiences of pain have an effect on the nervous system.

While not every doctor believes that fibromyalgia is a real condition, the phenomenon of central sensitization is much less controversial.  I’ve had many productive conversations with pain management specialists about the fact that I probably have a heightened sensitivity to pain; this is something that can be addressed without anyone using the word fibromyalgia.  In ways I feel that healthcare practitioners started taking me more seriously when I stopped asking if they thought I had fibromyalgia and started asking for help with chronic pain.  I’m not saying it should be that way, but in some cases that’s just how it was.

I will write more on fibromyalgia treatments elsewhere in the blog, but let me just do a quick overview for now on where to go for treatment:

Anti-depressant medications: There are antidepressants you can take that have been shown to relieve chronic pain in some people.  (When I say chronic pain, I mean pain due to central sensitization, the same thing as fibromyalgia pain).  There are two antidepressants, Lyrica and Cymbalta, that are specially marketed for pain sufferers.  You can get these from a psychiatrist that specializes in pain management or from a physiatrist (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist).

You can also see if traditional anti-depressants help you: many of them have been shown in studies to relieve symptoms of chronic pain, and you don’t need as high a dose as you would to treat depression.  You can get these from a psychiatrist or even from a primary-care physician.

You don’t need a fibromyalgia diagnosis to try these medications.  You just explain that you’ve been in pain in a long time and you’ve heard that these medications can help.

Sleep medications: One of the potential explanations for fibromyalgia patients’ heightened sensitivity to pain is that they might be experiencing disturbed sleep, which in turn wreaks havoc on their nervous systems.  (Indeed, other studies have shown that when you take healthy, pain-free people and severely deprive them of sleep for a few days, they start to feel pain similar to that of fibromyalgia sufferers).

You don’t need a diagnosis of fibromyalgia to see your primary care physician or a sleep specialist.  Perhaps they will order a sleep study to see if you have sleep apnea, or else suggest some sleep medications you can try.

Physical Therapy: The key is to find a good physical therapist– in my opinion, about 50% of the physical therapists out there are no help at all for issues of chronic pain where the nervous system has gotten stuck in a feedback loop.  They’ll just look at you like you’re either lazy or crazy, and nothing will be accomplished.

What finally allowed me to turn the corner was that I found an amazing physical therapist.  He had attended a training by Neil Pearson, and was able to explain to me why my nervous system was freaking out.  This physical therapist helped me to see that just because I felt pain in one part of my body didn’t mean that there was something necessarily wrong with that part of my body.  This helped to bring my level of panic way down and weakened the cycle of pain I was caught in.

The funny thing is that not once did my physical therapist use the word fibromyalgia.  Neither did Neil Pearson in the online lectures I keep obsessing about all over this blog.  Instead, they used the terms “chronic pain” and “persistent pain.”  And both of those men helped me more than anyone else.

If at all possible, try to see a physical therapist that has attended a training by Neil Pearson, Lorimer Moseley, or any of the other amazing pain scientists I talk about on this blog.  There aren’t many out there, but if you can ask around and read different physical therapists’ websites to see what they specialize in, it is worth it if you can find someone.

If you can’t find someone who has attended such a training, you can still benefit from working with a physical therapist who is really sympathetic and makes you feel comfortable exercising.  Someone who motivates you without pressuring you into doing things you’re not comfortable with.

As you’ll see when you watch Neil Pearson’s amazing online lectures, pain is your body’s alarm system: when you do something your body isn’t comfortable with, you make the alarm system scream louder.  You have to respect your body’s limits and exercise as much as you can within those limits.  You might find that having a trusted physical therapist on your side will allow you to feel comfortable trying new movements that you wouldn’t be okay with trying on your own.

Exercise:  If you are able to exercise, I think it goes without saying that it is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Your treadmill doesn’t know whether you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or not.

Digestive Symptoms: If you have digestive problems along with your fibromyalgia, you need to find a sympathetic gastroenterologist or nutritionist to help you figure things out.  I had to go through five gastroenterologists before I found a doctor who said something other than “you have IBS.  Try to relax.”

There are all sorts of things that you should be tested for if you have GI troubles, but assuming your colonoscopy is normal and everything, you probably have irritable bowel syndrome, which is caused by nervous system changes similar to those that cause fibromyalgia.  Just as it is possible for the rest of your body to have a heightened response to pain, it is possible for your gut to have a heightened response the things you eat.  A good gastroenterologist and/or nutritionist can help you experiment with eliminating certain types of foods from your diet to see if your symptoms improve.  In that case, the diagnosis you will be working off of is definitely irritable bowel syndrome.

Conclusion

That just about covers the basics.  I hope I have reassured you that you can get better even if you never find anyone to diagnose you with fibromyalgia.  I will be writing more about the causes and treatments of chronic pain/fibromyalgia on this blog, but if you ever want to ask me a more detailed question, you can email me at sunlightinwinter12@hotmail.com

Listen to music in the morning. Let yourself dance.

Find some great music.

I love having music on in the background while I’m doing routine things like eating breakfast and getting dressed.  I find the combination of music and a mild caffeine buzz puts me in a good mood, and it’s a great way to distract yourself from any pain you might be feeling so that you move normally instead of tensing up.

I think it helps to have music that you’re really excited about, and to explore new music often to keep yourself mentally and emotionally charged.   The more into the music you are, the more likely it is to distract you from the pain.

For that reason, I say listen to whatever genre of music you want.  Don’t feel like you have to stick to “relaxation” or “healing” music to try to get through your pain.  If you want to listen to heavy metal first thing in the morning, that’s fine.  Whatever resonates with you and matches your mood is probably best.  Personally, I tend to alternate between pop music, club music, and dubstep for my morning wake-up music, but I sometimes listen to angry alternative rock.  Don’t feel silly about your choices– different things resonate with different people.   If you like it, turn it up (as loud as you can at 8 am, anyway).

Let yourself move to the music. 

It’s okay if all you can do is nod your head a little bit, or tap your feet, or snap your fingers.  Just let your body feel the music.  It’s a great way to ease yourself into moving your body in a relaxed way, without over-thinking it.

When we’re in pain, we tend to hold our bodies in a very rigid way, as if we are trying to protect ourselves.  Walking around with a stiff, rigid posture usually backfires and causes us to end up in more pain, because we are tensing our muscles up all day long.  For me, the combination of a mild caffeine buzz, music I love, and the joy of having a few extra minutes at home in the morning is the perfect combination to start to enjoy moving again.  If I’m paying attention to the music, I’m paying less attention to my pain.  Make yourself a playlist that you freakin’ love and let your body move however it wants.

Where to find good music?

  • There are basically zero listenable FM radio stations where I live, so I find a lot of new music through Youtube.  You can sign up to make a free account and then save music videos to your own personal playlist.  This is a great way to have new music at your fingertips on a daily basis.  I make different playlists based by genre, so I can easily find music that fits my mood.
  • Pandora is also a great option.  You just tell it one artist or band that you like, and it will play songs by similar artists.

To my readers, what kind of music do you like to start your day with?  I’m always looking for new suggestions!

For more of my tips on dealing with mornings, check out: