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10 Natural Remedies for Fibromyalgia

Everyday treatments to ease pain and sensitivity

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Fibromyalgia is sometimes called the “invisible illness.” It doesn’t show up in obvious ways like broken limbs or oozing sores, but for the 4 million adults in America who suffer from the condition, it can be painful and debilitating. For reasons that are not clearly understood, it affects twice as many women as men. (In 2017, Lady Gaga revealed that she suffered from fibromyalgia.) The main symptom is chronic widespread pain and extreme sensitivity to touch. Other signs include numbness, tingling, fatigue, depression and even digestive problems like bloating and constipation.

Although there are no diagnostic tests for the condition, in 2016 the American College of Rheumatology updated a set of criteria for a fibromyalgia diagnosis: widespread pain at a level of 7 or higher, symptoms that have been there at the same intensity for at least three months, and no evidence of another disorder that may explain the symptoms.

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There is no clear cause for fibromyalgia. Although recent research suggests there may be a genetic component, it most often occurs as the result of a physical trauma or emotional stress.

Medications for fibromyalgia

While there’s no cure-all pill for fibromyalgia, there are medications available to relieve its symptoms. The following three prescription drugs are approved by the FDA specifically for treating fibromyalgia.

  • Duloxetine (brand name Cymbalta): Cymbalta increases the activity of two brain neurotransmitters that are linked to mood and pain.
  • Milnacipran (brand name Savella): Savella targets the same neurotransmitters — serotonin and norepinephrine — improving mood and decreasing perception of pain.
  • Pregabalin (brand name Lyrica): Lyrica has been reported to reduce pain up to 25 percent.

Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen have not been proven to help fibromyalgia.

Ask Lynne Matallana, founder and president of the National Fibromyalgia Association. Surgery when she was in her 30s triggered the onset of fibromyalgia, forcing her to spend two years in bed. “I was told I was crazy. I was told I was lazy,” she says. Even her mother didn’t believe her. Matallana finally found a doctor who identified fibromyalgia. She had no idea what that was, but was relieved to have some answer to her pain. “He told me, ‘You need to do your part and I will do my part,’ ” Matallana says. “That was life-changing for me.”

She found that advice life-changing because the doctor told her she could take charge of her treatment. There are several medications for fibromyalgia, but “self-care is one of the most important parts of getting better,” says Matallana. In the last 20 years, there has been a sea change in public opinion about the best way to treat the condition. “Back in the early 2000s, when the National Fibromyalgia Association did market research with patients, 97 percent said they wanted a pill,” says Matallana. “Today only about 47 percent say they want a pill.” The rest are interested in alternative and complementary treatment choices.

These treatments, singly or combined, include:

1. Gentle exercise

Exercise is an important part of fibromyalgia treatment, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Experts recommend sticking to low-impact aerobics like swimming or walking. But a person in pain may not be so anxious to exercise.

Daniel Clauw, a professor of anesthesiology, rheumatology and psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School, in an interview with the National Fibromyalgia Association, suggests using the word “activity” in place of “exercise.” Activity can mean something as simple as walking around your house. Start slowly and build up. “Every week just add half a minute to your walking routine,” Matallana says.

2. Yoga and tai chi

Yoga and tai chi are also helpful and in some cases may be even better at relieving symptoms than aerobic exercise. In 2018, an article in The BMJ reported on a study that compared the effects of tai chi with aerobic exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms. The participants who engaged in tai chi reported more improvement in physical activity and mental health than those who did aerobic exercise. Further, the research showed that the longer the participants practiced ­tai chi, the greater the improvement.

Research has found that yoga, either as a single practice or combined with other treatments, is also helpful. In one study, women who participated in a yoga health program that included gentle stretching, breathing exercises, meditation and group discussion saw significant improvement in their pain levels, fatigue and mood.


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3. Diet

Diet can both help your fibromyalgia and make it worse. Kathleen Holton, an associate professor in the department of health studies at American University in Washington, D.C., recommends eating unprocessed foods that are high in nutrients and low in additives, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. She strongly recommends avoiding all processed foods high in additives like monosodium glutamate and aspartame. In an email, she further warns to avoid foods that “sound healthy,” like diet foods and dietary products that claim to be low carb or high protein. She also recommends that patients watch their sugar intake and stay away from artificial sweeteners.

4. Supplements

Scientists at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health, continue to investigate the role of dietary supplements in treating fibromyalgia. While there have been no conclusions, some research has shown that vitamin D may relieve symptoms. Results of a study released in 2022 showed that magnesium supplements were also helpful in relieving pain in those with mild to moderate symptoms. And melatonin can be helpful in regulating sleep cycles. But, experts warn, even these supplements can have side effects, so be sure to discuss with your doctor before taking.

5. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talk therapy that aims to reduce fibromyalgia symptoms by changing the way people act or think. In 2012, researchers compared fibromyalgia patients who participated in CBT once a week for 10 weeks with those who did not receive CBT. At both three and nine months post-treatment, patients given CBT reported less pain and better ability to function in daily activities.

6. Massage therapy

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health, massage therapy is widely used to treat fibromyalgia. In a 2014 review of randomized trials on the effectiveness of massage therapy, researchers concluded that at least five weeks of massage treatment helped with pain levels in those who have the condition.

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7. Acupuncture

Ongoing studies support the benefit of acupuncture for fibromyalgia pain. According to Brent Bauer, research director of integrative medicine and health at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, acupuncture delivered by a well-trained acupuncturist can be helpful for many symptoms of fibromyalgia with low risk of adverse events. But, he warns, it’s not a stand-alone treatment. It needs to be incorporated into a more comprehensive approach that also focuses on diet, exercise and sleep. Medicare Part B will cover up to 12 acupuncture visits in 90 days, but only for low-back pain.

8. Sleep

Insomnia can start a vicious cycle. Pain makes it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep makes pain worse. So how do you get a good night’s sleep if you have fibromyalgia? Set a sleep schedule, give up daytime naps, and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Some of the treatments mentioned above may also prove beneficial, specifically exercise, vitamin D and melatonin.

9. Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD is a compound found in cannabis sativa, and while it has been widely available since 2018, it is not legal in every state. Nor has it been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for fibromyalgia pain. Used by itself, CBD does not cause one to get high or test positive for marijuana. In 2020, researchers at the University of Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, in collaboration with the National Fibromyalgia Association, released findings of a survey on whether, why and how people with fibromyalgia used CBD. The findings: Over 60 percent of participants in the survey used or had used CBD for their fibromyalgia symptoms. Of those 60 percent, almost two-thirds reported trying CBD because other medications didn’t relieve their pain.

10. Herbs

Drinking tea made with dry or fresh thyme, ginger and honey may help with fibromyalgia symptoms, but stay away from thyme tea if you have heart disease or gastrointestinal illnesses. Taken as a supplement, 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) helps raise serotonin levels in the brain. Because serotonin regulates mood, 5-HTP may improve anxiety and insomnia in some patients, but it has not been shown to be universally beneficial.

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