12 Things People Do That Make Fibromyalgia Worse

Are you unwittingly making your fibromyalgia pain worse?

Believe it or not – most of us that suffer from chronic pain inadvertently aggravate our pain day in and day out. And the ways we’re doing it might surprise you. From putting off that doctor visit to eating foods that increase your sensitivity to pain (and everything in between) – there are a number of seemingly harmless things you’re probably doing that are having a devastating effect on your pain and making your life worse than it needs to be.

We’ve put together a list of the 12 most common things we’ve seen that can make your pain worse. Lets take a look:

Waiting to see a doctor

This is common among those whose symptoms are relatively new. The average fibromyalgia diagnosis takes 7 years before finally being diagnosed as fibromyalgia! Part of that is that doctors have been hesitant to diagnose as fibromyalgia – but another part is that we sometimes put off seeing a doctor.

We have a tendency to try to ignore our symptoms or tough it out. We may believe the symptoms will go away on their own or perhaps they don’t seem serious enough yet to warrant a visit. Whatever the reason for putting off the doctor visit – it could be preventing you from getting a head start on fighting the pain and finding relief.

Eating trigger foods

Did you know that some foods could heighten your sensitivity to pain? Besides eating a healthy diet rich with the vitamins and nutrients your body needs – you need to be aware of what “trigger” foods could be making your pain worse. As a general rule, anyone with fibromyalgia should avoid things like:

– Dairy productsdairy products can aggravate fibromyalgia pain
– Simple carbs (sugars)
– Food additives (i.e. msg)
– Artificial sweeteners
– Caffeine
– Nightshade vegetables (i.e. tomatoes, potatoes, various peppers and eggplants)

Foods can have varying affects on different people, so for some these foods may have little to no effect while for others the effects are quite noticeable. We recommend keeping a food journal for a couple of months. Write the foods you eat – what time you ate them – and make note of any changes is pain, comfort or mood. After a couple months, you can get a good idea of which foods are affecting you negatively.

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dairy products, simple carbs (sugars), food additives (i.e. msg), artificial sweeteners, caffeine and nightshade vegetables (i.e. tomatoes, potatoes, various peppers and eggplants).

Drinking caffeine

Is coffee bad for fibromyalgia?

It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it? We often struggle all-night to get good rest – and even when we do sleep a full 8 hours we still wake up exhausted. So, like the rest of the world, we turn to caffeine to try to make it through the day. While caffeine may do the trick and help get us going, it generally has a net-negative effect on us.

For one, caffeine can actually further interrupt your biological clock and make sleep even more elusive than it already is. It also provides a quick boost followed by a crash – especially if your caffeinated beverage of choice is a sugary soda or energy drink. Try healthier approaches to boost your energy. Something like D-ribose, which is a kind of sugar the body produces that is also used as a medicine, can provide lasting energy without the crash.

Drinking or smoking

This should be obvious – yet we still talk to people everyday who are regular smokers or drinkers. Studies show that those with fibromyalgia who smoke report significantly more pain, numbness, patient global severity, and functional difficulties than non-smokers. [1] The same goes for excessive alcohol consumption. It blocks important nutrients like vitamin B12 from absorbing into your system and protecting your nerves. This can ultimately lead to pain, tingling or numbness from nerve damage.

Taking long naps

This is another tough one. For one – we’re exhausted, be it the pain or chronic fatigue. For many, naps are a must. However, in a recent study on the effects of daytime naps on the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms, researchers found that frequency and duration of naps was linked to greater symptom severity in people with fibromyalgia. [2]

Does this mean you shouldn’t nap at all? Not necessarily. The study notes that “evidence based guidelines on the use of daytime napping in people with chronic pain are urgently needed”. Instead of trying to make it through the day without napping, aim to take shorter naps. While it may not sound like enough time, a 15-20 minute nap will often leave you feeling more refreshed than a 2-3 hour slumber.

Lack of physical activity

Fibromyalgia can be like a double-edged sword. The pain makes it extremely difficult (and sometimes impossible) to exercise. This lack of physical activity can lead to a type of muscle atrophy (or deterioration of muscles) known as disuse atrophy. As your muscle mass deteriorates and weakens from lack of use, even a simple daily like taking a shower can be difficult, painful and exhausting.

So what can you do to keep your muscles from deteriorating? While hitting the weights or running on the treadmill are often out of the question for most of us, there are less extraneous forms of exercises we can do to stay active. Low impact exercises such as aquatics, stationary bicycle, stretching and basic yoga moves can help keep muscles strong as well as improve flexibility. Just remember not to overdo it. Always be aware of your limits and don’t overwork your body – even when doing low-impact exercises.

Overdoing it

Speaking of over-doing it, overexertion is another common culprit for making pain worse. Whether it’s exercising, shopping or just trying to keep up with your many responsibilities at home and work – we sometimes do more than our bodies are ready to handle. We usually pay for it over the next few days – as you already know.

Understanding your body’s limits and having the self-discipline to throw in the towel before exceeding its limits will make a huge difference in the severity of your pain.

Passing on natural approaches 

One way in which we may inadvertently allow our pain to get worse is by passing on alternative treatments, remedies or therapies that could potentially help. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you should try everything – especially not the crazy miracle drink your aunt says helped her best friend’s younger sister’s niece. What we ARE saying is do your research, talk to your doctor and explore natural approaches that you can try as a supplement to the traditional medicines you’re already taking.

Natural approaches might include natural supplements, massage, acupuncture, TENs therapy, yoga, mindfulness and more. Many people we’ve talked to experience life-changing results from taking a multi-faceted approach that includes both traditional and alternative medicines and therapies.

Not properly coping with stress

Lets face it; no one can completely avoid stress. It’s a part of life. For those of us struggling with fibromyalgia – our stress can be amplified because our condition affects every aspect of our lives. It throws a wrench in our plans and changes how we live, feel, act and more. If not dealt with properly, stress can also create a vicious cycle by making our symptoms worse – leading to even more stress in our lives.

So dealing with stress properly is extremely important in minimizing the effect it has on your symptoms. There are a number of ways to deal with stress. Things like yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices can do wonders to teach the mind how to recognize and release stress. Activities and hobbies can also help the mind unwind.

Unhealthy relationships

Speaking of stress, relationships can be another big source of stress – especially in any relationship disrupted by chronic pain. Even healthy relationships have their moments of stress – so there’s no avoiding it. However, certain relationships may cause more stress than they’re worth. If a relationship is consistently negative or unhealthy, it will add unnecessary stress and further diminish your mental and emotional willpower (of which you need all you can get). Look at your relationships and determine what changes you can make to help unhealthy or negative ones get back on track. If things still don’t change, consider putting the relationship on hold (when possible) and pay attention to the change you’ll feel.

One other thing to consider, relationships can mean more than just your relationships with friends or family. Perhaps you have other unhealthy relationships, i.e. too much time one your phone or computer, too much TV., etc. Don’t forget to examine those kinds of relationships as well!

Focusing too much on the pain

Have you ever found yourself so absorbed in something that you subconsciously forget your pain – even if only for a moment? There’s usually that moment when you consciously recognize that you’d been so distracted that the pain didn’t feel quite as pronounced. Believe it or not, there’s scientific evidence that distracting our minds from the pain works.

According to a study published in Current Biology, researchers found that not only does distraction take our minds off the pain – it actually inhibits the body’s actual response to pain signals.[3] Kind of amazing, right? So, while it may be easier said than done – finding a good distraction to help take your mind elsewhere can be an effective pain management tool!

Not addressing depression

Depression is common among those dealing with chronic pain. In fact, those suffering from fibromyalgia are up to three times more likely to have depression.[4] As we’ve already discussed, our mental and emotional states can have a direct influence on how our brains process pain. Using brain imagery tools, researchers have found direct links between mental health and sensitivity to pain.

Unfortunately, all too often we neglect our mental and emotional health. This neglect can be particularly damaging to those of us with fibromyalgia, as it can lead to more stress and take exacerbate our symptoms.


[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12455822

[2] http://bmcmusculoskeletdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12891-015-0464-y

[3] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120517132055.htm

[4] http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/fibromyalgia-and-depression

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