Fibromyalgia is an odd bird. It’s not like bronchitis or strep throat, where definite symptoms point to one possible diagnosis – no guessing, no errors.
But fibromyalgia is also not like migraines or depression, where the diagnosis relies mostly on the patient’s account of internal symptoms.
Nope. That would be too easy. Fibromyalgia is a hybrid… thing… There are really no good words to quickly describe what fibromyalgia is or how it presents.
The symptoms seem to almost “float” sometimes, going from one area of your body to another.
I don’t think there is anything that compares to the unpredictability of a fibromyalgia flare-up. It can HT you anywhere, anytime, with no warning signs and no evading the symptoms.
And let’s face it: it sucks.
So what exactly is a flare-up? Well, fibromyalgia is an inflammatory condition, meaning there are times where our own bodies create a surplus of white blood cells to combat a perceived threat within our bodies.
Much like when you have a twisted ankle, and the swelling results from the inflammation of the tissues – but really, if you stop to think about it, the swelling allows for the damaged body to be protected by this makeshift “bumper” created by the activation of white blood cells and the puffing up that follows.
Makes sense so far? Good (I hope! If not, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to explain a bit more about this).
Now let’s consider your average Fibro Warrior body. We could compare it to a crowded mall with a confused security team.
The patrons (your organs) are going about their business in the mall (your overall body) when somehow, the security team (your immune system) thinks there is a riot (a perceived injury) on the first floor (for the sake of this analogy: your knee for example).
The head of security (your brain) dispatches the security team through the hallways (your nervous system). They attempt to squash the riot by cordoning it off (the swelling/pain response).
But in reality, there is no riot, so the only thing the security team is achieving is neutralizing mall patrons violently when it’s not necessary. Instead of stopping potentially harmful behavior, it only serves to injure a healthy mall patron.
I’m aware this was one long simile, but I had fun with it! The point is, your body is attacking itself because it is dispatching a rescue team to a healthy site. Once the team is there, it just does its job and ends up hurting you. And that, my Fellow Fibro Warrior, is what a flare-up is.
While not always, Fibro-flares will increase your pain response and your fatigue. Other symptoms may be aggravated as well, and as is the rule with fibromyalgia: there are no rules.
I guess you could say that a flare-up is when you notice your fibromyalgia symptoms even more than usual. Generally speaking, the symptoms will intensify and may become crippling.
Figuring out the triggers for your personal Fibro-flares will be an important piece of your “back-to-health” puzzle. I know it is obvious, and I know it is easier said than done, but the first step to getting better is to remove the initial trigger.
What is that trigger? Of course, there are no two like Fibro Warriors. Unfortunately, and this is not an answer that is easy to accept, you will have to figure out your own triggers by trial and error. It can be a long road.
Some common triggers are:
- Lack of sleep
- Excessive exercise
- Physical drain / doing too much
- Hormonal changes
- Change in schedule or sleep pattern
- New medications
- Extreme weather
- Weather changes
There are many more triggers for fibromyalgia flare-ups, also sometimes called fibromyalgia episodes. This is a very personal journey that will try your patience.
But the benefits you will reap from knowing what YOUR triggers are will far outweigh the efforts you put into identifying them.
From my own experience, here is what I have personally tried to deal with my Fibro-flares. Again, this is not an exact science, and what works for me may not work for you.
Your results may vary. I would absolutely love to hear from you guys what works for you and what doesn’t. Feel free to share your story and advice in the comments!
1- Eliminate the trigger – duh!
Oh, redundancy, when you hold us… This one is super obvious and it seems so easy, doesn’t it? Wrong!
Identifying your triggers will take time and most likely won’t happen overnight – and if it does, go buy that lottery ticket, you lucky dog!
Once you have identified your trigger, you will find that it doesn’t always trigger a flare-up (what? Did you think this was going to be easy-peasy?).
That brings me to point #2.
2- Know when your trigger will trigger what it triggers.
I love me a good tongue twister! Enough kidding: you will learn to read your body’s signals with Fibro in mind. And soon, you will be able to know when your trigger is about to throw you overboard.
It would not be fair to you or your loved ones if you had to stop doing everything that may cause a Fibro-flare. That would be an insane number of things that would be on your no-fly list.
I have found that my trigger for costochondritis (an inflammation of my rib cage which is linked to fibromyalgia) is holding my little Goddaughter in my arms.
But let’s be realistic, here. Who can handle not picking up a 2-year old cutie pie? Not me, that’s for sure!
Therefore, in order to still be able to enjoy picking her up and playing with her, I know that when my chest muscle starts to feel tight, it’s time to put the baby down. If I don’t, I’m in for a world of suffering for the next week or so.
3- Do it old school: use hot and cold packs.
The use of hot and cold packs has been around for a long, long time! I remember my grandma giving me a cold washcloth to put on a sprained ankle when I was about 8. And it worked!
Alternating hot and cold therapies on your sensitive points will help decrease the swelling and neutralize the nerve endings by numbing them. The combination of both usually yields results within a few hours.
4- Keep calm and carry on.
The best thing you can do for your achy body is to keep it moving. I’m not saying you should go run a marathon, but it probably isn’t the greatest idea to just lay in bed. I
‘m sure you’ve experienced this at one time or another in your life: you sprain an ankle during a soccer game, and your coach sprays some menthol on it to numb the pain.
You get back in the game and feel fine. But the next morning, the ankle cannot even support your body weight. Why?
Simply because a night of immobilization has made the articulation cold, and now it doesn’t want to work anymore.
The same thing goes for your aching fibromyalgia body. If you let it cool down for extended periods of time, chances are it maybe even more difficult to start back.
5- How about a cocktail?
Hey now! Not that kind of cocktail! I’m talking about an herbal supplement cocktail.
Recently, a doctor suggested the combination of turmeric (also known as curcumin or cumin), garlic and ginger. She told me that it was a powerful pain management combo.
She also cautioned that the ingredients should be bought at a food coop or natural food store because regular supermarket spices were tainted with pesticides.
She also said that coconut oil was a great way to control inflammation. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s a natural ingredient, I don’t see the risk of taking it. It can only help.
Now, for sure, do check with your herbalist or/and your doctor whenever you want to start a new supplement. There is always the possibility that it could interact with prescription medications you may be taking.
6- Talk to your doctor.
This one is quite self-explanatory. But yes, sometimes, the only way to manage your Fibro Flares is to take pain control drugs or even anti-inflammatory medications.
Personally, my Fibro Flares bring up a condition called “trochanteric bursitis.” It’s a fancy way to say my hips hurt.
And the only way to control the pain is to get a steroid shot injected directly into the bursa (a liquid-filled sac around a joint).
The steroid delivered directly where it is needed acts fast and exactly where it needs to act.
7- Sweet dreams, Goldilocks.
Getting sleep is sometimes tough. Getting sleep when you have a Fibro Flare can be nearly impossible. But it is so important to rest and be ready to tackle the next day like a champ! Let’s talk about sleeping arrangements.
If it is time for a new mattress, make certain to pick one that is just right for you. Air-filled mattresses, memory foam, gel compartments… there are a ton of possibilities out there.
And if you can’t replace your mattress to fit your needs quite yet, fret not! There are also some toppers available to add a layer of support to your existing mattress.
Bottom line: it is primordial that you create a nice haven where you can relax and rest, despite the pains and aches.
8- You’re not a superhero. Sorry.
Actually, sorry not sorry. I think it would be quite the feat to be a Fibro Warrior and a superhero. No one has the energy for all that saving the world stuff!
But I digress. The idea here is that we, as Fibro Warriors, are super harsh on ourselves. Trust me, I get it.
You desperately want to do the things you want to do, and your body is not cooperating. You feel like you’re letting everybody down.
And suddenly, you’re the party pooper who cancels plans at the very last possible minute.
You’re the mom who plans an outing to the park with the neighborhood kids, and you end up being the only one who doesn’t make it there.
You’re the spouse who wants to plan a romantic dinner because the kids are at grandma’s, but you end up going to bed at 6:30 pm because you can barely keep your eyes open.
You’re the friend who sets up a coffee date with your girlfriends, but you have to bow out because the thought of opening your car door hurts your wrist.
Here is the deal, brave Warriors: it’s ok to be tired; it’s ok to be in pain; it’s ok to lack the energy; it’s ok to have a messy house and dirty laundry baskets everywhere. Leave all of that alone for today and take the time to recover from your Fibro Flare.
It is ok to be you. Your loved ones love you the way you are, flaws and all (not that you have any!). So when the F word shows its nose around the corner, tear it like a gentle puppy, not an angry wolf.
Be nice to your fibromyalgia. Being frustrated and irritated will get you nowhere.
Learn to embrace who you are along your journey, including all stages of pain and discomfort fibromyalgia throws your way. Show it who’s boss
9- Find a magic treatment and become rich.
Oh, and I’d like to invest in that magic treatment when you find it.
Fine, that’s passive-aggressive. What I want to say, but hardly have the courage to say, is that there is no known cure as of April 2017 for fibromyalgia flare-ups.
It seems to be a lot easier to prevent Fibro-flares than it is to make the flare-up symptoms bearable. That doesn’t mean we should despair.
A ton of research is being down throughout the world on fibromyalgia, its causes, its effects and how to minimize symptoms and even eventually free Fibro Warriors.
So we need to keep fighting the good fight, and keep our chins up! (But not up too high, because then you can’t see your feet and you can trip. True story.)
Fellow Warriors: we’ve got this! The above are only a few examples of how you can manage your Fibro Flares.
I don’t hold all the answers (see point #8). But I know that I am not just a diagnosis. I refuse to be defined by what’s wrong with me!
We have so many good things to be grateful for, and so many blessings to share, let’s not focus on the bad.
I would love to know how you guys manage your flare-ups. Please share in the comments some ways you have found work for you when it comes to feeling better.
We are a strong community, and together we can make a difference in one another’s lives. Go Fibro Warriors!