Can Physical Therapy Help Fibromyalgia?


How Can I Find a Licensed Physical Therapist?

In looking for a physical therapist, check whether your health care plan covers visits. Look for physical therapists in their list of providers. Next, look for a trained professional licensed in your state. Find a therapist who has experience in dealing with fibromyalgia. Your doctor may provide a referral.

Places physical therapists can be found:

  • Doctor’s offices
  • Fitness facilities
  • Home health agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Schools

Choosing the Right Physical Therapist for Your Fibromyalgia Pain

The American Physical Therapy Association provides these tips for determining a physical therapist:

  • Check for a license. It’s important that your physical therapist is licensed in your state. If you are receiving therapy from an assistant, make sure a licensed physical therapist supervises them.
  • Get a referral, if needed. Most states allow you to find a therapist without a physician referral, but it’s best to double check.
  • Ask questions about insurance. Is your physical therapist in your insurance company network? Will this person submit claims for you? Do you have a co-pay, and how much is it? Work out all the money questions before you start your therapy.

Types of Physical Therapy For Fibromyalgia

Physical therapy – is hands-on yet gentle, effective, and will most likely play a major role in managing your fibromyalgia symptoms.

There are a variety of physical therapy techniques. Passive treatments relax your body. Your physical therapy program will usually begin with passive treatments. When you feel ready, you will start active treatments that strengthen your body and prevent further fibromyalgia pain.

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Passive Physical Therapy

  • Deep Tissue Massage: Unless you’re in an extreme amount of pain, deep tissue massage is ideal for fibromyalgia because it uses a great deal of pressure to relieve deep muscle tension and spasms. Spasms prevent muscle motion at the affected level, which is one of the reasons people with fibromyalgia experience a decreased range of motion. Physical therapy techniques, including deep tissue massage, will help you use your muscles more effectively.
  • Heat Therapy: Heat therapy is one of the most preferred methods of reducing chronic aches and pains associated with fibromyalgia. Heat triggers the body’s natural healing process by relaxing your muscles and speeding up blood flow to the affected area. Extra blood delivers extra oxygen and nutrients. Blood also removes waste byproducts from muscle spasms. Heat can effectively reduce your pain. This therapy is used in a couple of ways—through dry heat (a heating pad or a dry, hot towel) or moist heat (steam heat or a moist, warm cloth). When using heat therapy on your own after physical therapy ends, never overheat painful areas. If you’re using a heating pad, set it to low or medium. When using a hot towel, touch it first to make sure it’s not too hot. Excessive heat may not only exacerbate your fibromyalgia pain but also potentially cause burns.
  • Hydrotherapy: Water treatment is a passive treatment. Hydrotherapy may involve sitting in a whirlpool bath to relieve pain, relax muscles, and condition your body without adding unnecessary stress.
  • Electric Muscle Stimulation:  Electric muscle stimulation sounds intense, but it isn’t painful. This technique reduces muscle spasms and is generally believed to trigger the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers.
  • Ultrasound: This therapy uses sound waves to create a gentle heat that increases blood circulation to your deep tissues. Ultrasound helps reduce muscle spasms, inflammation, stiffness, and pain and is most effective in relieving range of motion limitations in chronic pain sufferers.

Active Treatments for Fibromyalgia

Active treatments help address core stability, flexibility, strength, and joint movement. An exercise program may also be prescribed to achieve optimal results. This will not only curb recurrent pain but also benefit your overall health.

  • Stretching. By increasing flexibility through stretching, tight, stiff muscles loosen up, providing fibromyalgia relief. Your physical therapist can instruct you on the proper way to stretch muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The National Pain Foundation recommends keeping the number of repetitions low — 5 to 10. Holding a stretch for 30 to 60 seconds is good for large muscle groups, with possibly only one to two reps necessary.
  • Core stability: Your core (abdominal) muscles have a greater impact on your overall health than you may think. Strong core muscles serve as good allies to your back muscles in supporting your spine. A healthy core provides your body with a strong, stable center point.
  • Muscle flexibility and strengthening: Your range of motion will likely be restricted if you’re experiencing fibromyalgia pain. Using customized stretching and strengthening exercises, your physical therapist will help you lengthen and strengthen your muscles and improve joint movement.

Your physical therapist will teach you self-care principles, so you understand how to treat your fibromyalgia symptoms best. The ultimate goal is for you to develop the knowledge to help control your symptoms.

The Bottom Line…

Some fibromyalgia patients say they feel worse after starting therapy, but Dr. Reicherter says this should not happen if you are getting good therapy and are going slowly. Overdoing exercise or activities after you start to feel better can make you feel worse.

Dr. Reicherter also points out that exercise soreness is different from fibromyalgia pain. Once you get used to the exercise, you should start reaping its benefits: less pain every day.

Resources

Spine Universe (Physical Therapy For Fibromyalgia)

WebMD (Fibromyalgia And Physical Therapy)

Everyday Health (How Physical Therapy Eases Fibromyalgia Pain)

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