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Fibromyalgia and Physical Therapy

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How Can Physical Therapy Help Relieve Fibromyalgia Pain?

While there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, physical therapy may help ease the symptoms of pain. It can also help reduce stiffness and fatigue. In addition to exercise, physical therapists use a wide range of resources -- from deep tissue massage to ice and heat packs for hydrotherapy. With these tools, physical therapists can help people with fibromyalgia use their muscles, stretch for flexibility, and move their joints through range-of-motion exercises.

The benefit of physical therapy is that it allows a person with fibromyalgia to work closely with a trained professional who can design a fibromyalgia-specific treatment program. The therapist documents your progress and gauges whether you're practicing good therapy habits, alignments, and movement patterns when doing "homework" or exercises at home.

The ultimate goal of physical therapy is for you to learn the specific exercises and then do them daily at home.

Why Does a Physical Therapist Use Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy with moist heat or cold packs works by stimulating your body's own healing force. For instance, cold compresses reduce swelling by constricting blood vessels. Conversely, warm, moist compresses on painful areas dilate blood vessels. That increases the flow of blood, oxygen, and other nutrients and speeds the elimination of toxins.

Hydrotherapy works well for almost all types of pain, including fibromyalgia pain. Cold compresses may reduce the pain of an injury, such as a sprain or strain. Moist heat may give relief to fibromyalgia's chronic muscle pain or trigger point pain. You may use a moist heating pad, a warm, damp towel, or a hydrocollator pack. You can also stand or sit on a stool in the shower and let warm water hit the painful area on your body.

Your physical therapist may recommend that you use moist heat for a few minutes just before and after stretching or doing resistance or aerobic exercise. Doing so may make the exercise less painful and more effective. If you want to use moist heat to decrease fibromyalgia pain, you might try it twice daily, about 15 minutes each time. Some people with fibromyalgia prefer alternating the ice compresses with the moist heat to get the most benefit.

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