According to the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapists teach self-management skills to people with all types of conditions, including fibromyalgia. Physical therapists can show people with fibromyalgia how to relieve symptoms of pain and stiffness in everyday life. These health care professionals teach people with fibromyalgia how to build strength and improve their range of motion. They show them ways to get relief from deep muscle pain. And they can help people with fibromyalgia learn how to make sensible decisions about daily activities that will help prevent painful flare-ups.
What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy focuses on the treatment, healing, and prevention of injuries or disabilities. Regular physical therapy programs may help you regain control of your fibromyalgia as you focus on lifestyle changes rather than on the chronic problems of pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
Proper posture, which your physical therapist will help you with, allows efficient muscle function. That results in your being able to avoid undue fatigue and pain. In addition, the therapist may use slow stretching exercises to help you improve muscle flexibility. Relaxation exercises that the therapist will show you can help reduce muscle tension.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help Fibromyalgia?
A licensed physical therapist has a background in anatomy and kinesiology -- the study of movement. If you have fibromyalgia, this allows the therapist to develop specific stretching and strengthening programs to meet your individual needs.
Physical therapists work with all types of patients -- from infants to adults. They provide health services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities. Working one-on-one with people, physical therapists help restore overall fitness and health.
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 treatments and exercises and then do them daily or as needed 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.
Hydrotherapy may help provide short-term relief of 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.
What Other Tools Does a Physical Therapist Use for Fibromyalgia?
The physical therapist may use different types of tools with fibromyalgia patients including:
- deep tissue massage
- low-impact aerobic conditioning (water aerobics)
- pain relief exercise
- stretching and strengthening exercises
- TENS units (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
How Can I Find a Licensed Physical Therapist?
In looking for a physical therapist, it is important to first check whether your health care plan covers visits. Many health insurance companies include physical therapists in their lists of providers. Next, look for a trained professional, someone who is licensed to practice in your state. It is also helpful to find a therapist who has experience in dealing with fibromyalgia. Your health professional may be able to suggest a physical therapist. Or talk to friends or family members who have had physical therapy.
Physical therapists can be found in many places, including:
- doctor's offices
- fitness facilities
- home health agencies
- nursing homes
- outpatient clinics