Traditional v complementary therapy for fibromyalgia

What a dreary start to 2017. It’s been cold and wet, and I just want to curl up on the sofa in my Christmas trousers (that’s right, I have Christmas trousers), watch films and eat everything in sight. In fact, that’s exactly how I’ve spent most of 2017 so far and I’m starting to wonder how much causal weight gain is acceptable before I have to start watching my carb intake.

As you can tell, I haven’t really got over December. A month that is usually full of Christmas parties, excessive eating and late-night socialising was spent wedding planning, dieting and trying to get as much sleep as possible. It was wonderful and I wouldn’t change it, I just think I should be allowed to start the year with a bit of Christmas carry-over.

Me, my sister, and our excellent Christmas trousers.

For those not in the know, me and R tied the knot on New Years Eve in a simple but beautiful ceremony, then partied our way in to 2017 surrounded by friends and family. I’ll likely blog about it at some point but I thought I’d kick off 2017 by sharing some tales about weird health experiences. Bear in mind that when you’ve finished reading this story I’m going to ask you: what would you do?

Let’s start at the beginning. At the end of last year I had just come out of a long and painful flare and I was trying not to rock the boat before the wedding, but I developed some excruciating arm pains in the last few weeks of December and needed to do something – anything – to sort myself out. In a last ditch attempt to ‘fix’ myself before the wedding I searched online for a local physiotherapist, hoping that some last-minute treatment would do the trick.

The physio I ended up seeing was lovely. A middle-aged woman with a kind and caring manner, she welcomed me in to a treatment room based at my local GP surgery  and I instantly warmed to her. However, she quickly explained that whilst she is a qualified physio (and let’s remember that’s what I asked for) she also practices esoteric therapy and it is her belief that fibromyalgia can be cured through this emerging complementary therapy that links physical pain to our emotions.

She didn’t ask me very much. I told her about the wedding, about my job, and explained my understanding of fibromyalgia. I explained my need for some short-term pain relief that would help me get through the festive period, but acknowledged the need for a more long-term view of pain management. I told her my drugs weren’t working (her response: “that’s because the drugs are for physical issues, and you don’t have a physical issue”) and told her my arms were particularly bad (her response: “our arms are where we hold our anger and frustration, so I imagine there’s some feelings you’re keeping bottled up inside”.)

She asked me to lie down and rubbed my arm with a soothing ointment. She asked me to close my eyes and, for about half an hour, she talked me through mindfulness exercises interspersed with suggestions that I was holding back anger or frustration in relation to my wedding – likely because people were trying to take over and I wasn’t standing up for myself. An interesting approach to physiotherapy if you ask me.

I was clearly looking sceptical (when am I not?) because, at the end of the session, she told me that she may not have got everything right (apparently: “esoteric therapy is a bit like fortune telling, you have to guess your way through at the beginning”) but over time she was confident she could reduce and relieve my pain.

I told her three things. Firstly, that I do not hang on to anger and frustration. I am a communicator and if I was unhappy with things in relation to the wedding I’d be talking about it. Secondly, that I have attempted mindfulness many times and would like to keep attempting it as I do recognise the benefits, I’m just not very good at it. (She told me esoteric therapy wasn’t mindfulness but, from what I saw, I respectfully disagree.) And finally I told her that I wholeheartedly support complementary therapy and I completely agree more that you can’t separate the mental from the physical, I’m just not sure esoteric therapy is for me.

I left the session feeling mixed emotions. She told me – or I told her, I can’t remember – that my approach to coping with pain is to metaphorically hold my breath and rush around doing as much as I can, buzzing about and squeezing things in knowing I don’t have long before the next flare. I have known for eight years that this is not a sustainable way to cope with pain. But when you ask to see a physiotherapist and that person tells you you’re in pain because you won’t admit you don’t like the flowers your mum wants at the wedding, you start to feel aggrieved at paying that person £55.

But I couldn’t deny one thing. My arm felt better.

It’s very possible that my arm felt better because it was the first time in weeks I’d lay down and rested – with the added bonus of someone gently massaging my arm. But maybe there’s also something to be said for stopping all medication, focusing the mind and changing behaviours.

I truly believe the worst thing about fibromyalgia is the lack of medical support. I consider myself a well-informed chronic pain patient, and yet I have no idea how best to treat my condition. Every time I ask for help I’m told I’m doing the wrong thing and I should try something else, but it’s all down to individual opinion. It’s exhausting and confusing and quite frankly, my health and wellbeing shouldn’t be reliant on my trust and judgement of the people trying to sell me stuff. That’s not how healthcare should work.

So let’s go back to that original question; what would you do? I’m working on these three options:

  1. Make another appointment. She was a lovely lady and, even though her view of pain medication was somewhat dismissive, she may have a point about behaviours and emotions. It’s worth digging deeper.
  2. Don’t go back. It’s exhausting to try every single type of therapy that comes my way. She used her physio qualification to lure me in, only to flog me a story about anger being stored in my arms. That’s not what I asked for or paid for. But if not this, then what next?
  3. Esoteric therapy is the next big thing in chronic pain management. Definitely go back, this woman knows what she’s on about.

Is there a fourth option I’m missing? Thoughts appreciated folks; what would you do?

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39 comments on “Traditional v complementary therapy for fibromyalgia

  1. Barbara Holladay

    End result: your arm felt better. I would go back once more and then decide. Each time you have improvement deserves one more time. Maybe get someone to lightly rub your arm awhile & compare.
    (I, too have Christmas pants.)
    Barb (from Kansas) but now in Texas, U.S.

  2. I would definitely go back. I am not on any pain Meds but treat by going to a holistic massage therapist every other week. Without her I think I would be in a constant ‘flare’. She knows everything that is going on in my body and I do believe ‘sometimes’ (without realising) we hold on to underlying emotion that our sensitive bodies have trouble dealing with.

  3. Hey there Sarah! You know, I just had to comment on this one. I’ve had people in my life like this before, and what I would say to you is: your instincts are usually right. And to me, it sounds like your instincts are saying “uh, yeah, good luck with that…but, no thanks”. Look, I’m one to DEFINITELY support the idea that the emotional and the physical can go hand in hand. I mean, we all know first hand how stress affects our physical bodies. BUT, there is a point where it goes beyond a healthy balance, and becomes a bunch of hocus/pocus metaphysical B.S. I’m sure this woman is well intentioned, and believes honestly in what she’s promoting, but if it smells/quacks/waddles like a ‘new-agey’ water fowl….well, it probably is one. I say save the sheckles, and go with your gut. Peace and ♥ to you my Fibro friend! 😉

    • Ha! I love it! And you’re exactly right – I *know* there’s more going on than our bodies are aware of but my gut is saying, ‘why advertise as a physio? Advertise as a complementary therapist and let us make a decision on whether or not to see you.’ Peace and love back to you x

  4. I’m personally offended by what she said and I wouldn’t give her another penny. She’s basically telling you that what you suffer through (and what millions of other people suffer from) is not real but she has some snake oil to sell you. The nerve of her! As soon as anyway tells me that they don’t think my symptoms are down to a real problem, I walk away. I’ve been brought to the edge with Fibromyalgia too many times to allow anyone to dismiss what I go through. There are plenty of medical professionals who know better and know it well. You wanted to see a physiotherapist and you paid for this woman’s narrow opinion. I would probably report her, if it was me. I know my opinion is a strong one (it’s probably what is causing all this pain🙄) but I am sick of people who haven’t the first clue making assumptions about all these people who suffer from the same exact symptoms and who are sometimes driven to suicide because the pain is too intense to deal with.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head Dawn. I’m all about the mix of physical and mental, but it’s the insinuation that fibro isn’t real that really got to me. And whether you’re good at what you do or not, you need to at least believe and listen to me. That’s the most important thing, surely?

      • I agree with Dawn. You didn’t get what you paid for, a physio, so I would look for another one that actually believes what you go through. I don’t think you are a good match. I think you need to find a balance between medical and complimentary treatments from what you’ve said. I’m in a similar position, also in the UK. I haven’t found what I need yet either but I’m still looking. I would suggest trying another physio and also get yourself on the NHS waiting list for one now. A two pronged approach.
        Congrats on your wedding. Cath xx

      • I agree. The hunt is on!

  5. bandnamdcharlie

    The physiotherapist’s comments sound similar to those who are skeptical that our pain is real in the first place, which makes it curious why she is in her field of practice. Yes, I do believe that our emotions play a role in our physical condition but it is not the ONLY reason we experience pain. I do not have endometriosis pain daily because I’m depressed or angry – I have endo pain because I have endometriosis. My emotions may make my pain more or less manageable/tolerable – that is it, though.

    If you felt better, maybe give it another shot – relief is relief. Nonetheless, I prefer to go to centers where the therapists and doctors believe my pain is real and do not try to downplay it or blame it on depression. I am interested to see how it goes 🙂

    xx hugs – from onelofajourney

    • And in this, you’ve summed up my post! I think you’re exactly right. At the very least, you need to believe my pain is real and then we can work together. I’m tempted to give it another go, just because – as you say – relief is relief, but I want to spend my time with someone who ‘gets it’ and I’m not convinced she does.

  6. To answer your question; if it helped then go back.
    I think there is much more medical support than they use to be, but doctors still think they can throw a pill at the pain and it will go away, and also so do many patients as well. Pain medications have a place in the treatment of FMS, but as a fellow sufferer, i have had to find my own way to pain relief. I believe that it is a fault in the way the CNS perceives pain and all pain, emotional, mental, is perceived in the same way as physical pain. Does that mean, we can tell ourselves we are not in pain and then have the pain go away? No! Or i at least do not have that much control of my mind to be able to do that.
    Personally i would more likely go to mindfulness healing group, than a FMS pain support group. Doctors need to see all patients holistically and treated accordingly. Unfortunately most GP’s have neither the inclination, the time or indeed the money to be able to do so. So we have to educate them and do it ourselves. Also, personally, I had a viral chest infection in December and my body still thinks it as an infection, causing non-stop coughing and often breathlessness, none of the medication the Dr gave me, which worked at the beginning are working now, now i need to cure myself through mindful breathing and medication and rest.
    Rest up and get better.

    • I completely agree Beverley, everything is interlinked and pills won’t save it all. But I do think that the people helping you through mindfulness and complementary therapy should be people that understand your condition and believe your pain. I don’t want to pay someone and then have to spend an hour convincing them fibro is real. Hope the chest infection goes quickly – my partner also has one at the moment and they’re just awful. Rest up and get better to you too x

      • Yes, the person helping you, needs to accept that you are in pain in the first place. Pain is very personal and no one knows how it feels to someone else, no matter how close we are to them.

  7. I would be irritated if I were in this situation, but I would go back to her one more time just to make sure that I was making the right decision. Other than the financial aspect, it couldn’t hurt. You might make a list a pros and cons? That’s what I do. Anyhoo, big congratulations on tying the knot with R. I wish you many blissful years of adventure and improved health.
    ps. those Christmas trousers are AWESOME!!

    • Ha! Thank you! I think in order of excitement over Christmas, the trousers have to come top! 😉

      I think you’re right. I’m not comfortable with it and I think some of the comments were ridiculous (!) and show doubt in fibro, but I want to be sure I’m making the right call. x

    • This is what I was about to write. What she said was super tone deaf and something she needs to not say OR stop dealing with those who have chronic pain. That being said, she helped your pain decrease which is a pretty big deal. I would go in and be honest with her. Maybe she was having an off day, maybe she wasn’t aware that what she is saying is problematic. I usually try to give people one more try before I nope out of there. If she isn’t the right fit..thats ok! You can find someone else. I hope that she “hears” you and most importantly, I hope this treatment continues to give you some substantial consistent relief.
      Ps. Congrats on your nuptials!!!

  8. Elizabeth Neal

    Try a different physiotherapist maybe. See if their treatment of your physical problem helps at all before trying to solve an assumed mental/spiritual problem. Sometimes psychological issues can make us tense and anxiety can aggravate problems, but why assume that this was the case with you before asking any questions or making any investigation into your situation and condition? How could she make that diagnosis?

  9. Hi.
    This is what we up north call false marketing. You didn’t get what you asked for. The
    lady lied and was a what ever in disguise….. That’s to bad because she wasn’t wrong entirely.

    Yes emotions some times get stuck in the body. Sadness and grief can be stuck in our knees dumbe as it sounds but true.. worry and anger in shoulders and arms and so on.( I ‘m a massage and reiki therapist among some other hokus pokus but haven’t practice since I moved. And ain’t it can health others but it’s very difficult to heal your self)

    No as we all know fibro is not psychological and I doubt a flower arrangement disagreement cause armpain..
    Try to find a real physiotherapist and a real alternative therapist some times you get 2 for 1( like I used to be) if that is what makes YOU feel god. Not some one who lies from the start.

    I would not see her again.
    Hugs 😊Liselotte

  10. I reckon that if your arm felt better, it’s worth another try. The nice lady may believe that fibre isn’t physical (bet it feels flipping physical when you’re in pain) but it’s your illness – take on board whatever helps, but respectfully delete whatever sounds like nonsense. Medical people aren’t always right – especially when it comes down to ‘invisible’ things. I had one neuro tell me he could ‘tell what was wrong with me just by looking at me’. He was wrong. She might not consider fibro ‘real’, but it’s very real to you – if you find what she’s saying is annoying you more than you’re getting any benefit then move on, but I think it’s worth a second try x

  11. I am a 79-year-old lady. My FIBROMYALGIA disease appeared at the age of 74, with no hope of a cure from the hospital i looked further for an alternative treatments, a friend of mine told me about Health Herbal Clinic in Johannesburg South Africa who sell herbal treatments for diseases including FIBROMYALGIA disease, I contacted the herbal clinic via their website and purchased the fibromyalgia herbal remedy. I received the herbal remedy through DHL couriers within 8 days and i immediately commenced usage as prescribed, i used the herbal remedy for about a month and 1 week, my condition has greatly improved, all my symptoms including Chronic muscle pain, Abdominal pain, nausea, I am fibromyalgia free! contact Health Herbal Clinic via their email healthherbalclinic AT gmail DOT comPLS fibromyalgia is not a death sentence, there is a cure!

  12. If you are going for a new bed, get a multi position base as I did and then I purchased a sleep number mattress and it was the best thing I ever did. I finally get great sleep sometimes but the positioning is great help with the pain. I made payments for two years but it is worth every penny. I have had it for 10 years and expect to have it for many more. Restorative sleep is the best thing we can do for our bodies. You will need a king split base for you and Robin. He will benefit too.
    I am from Fond du Lac , Wisconsin,USA. I live in the Green Bay Packer’s area. They are a great football team. I am 75yrs. Old and have had fibromyalgia since I was 19. Finally got an accurate diagnosis when I was about 52.

    • Oh wow Ruth! Thank you so much for this – the mattress hunt officially started this weekend so your comment is perfect timing. I am so very impressed you’ve been coping with fibro for so long, and that you went undiagnosed for so many years. Thanks for reading my blog! x

  13. I would go back and see how that goes. I use a magnesium oil and I rub onto my aches and pains. I always look at things that what works for one might not work for another. Some of my friends can not be touched. I can be like that when in a flare. However, on that note a gentle massage by a qualified therapist always helps me. I sleep better and the pain seems to fade a bit….

    • I completely agree! What works for one may not work for another, it’s so true. I think my worry is the somewhat dismissive nature and also the fact that I paid for physio but got something very different without checking that was okay. Hmmm. Thanks for your thoughts though, much appreciated!

      • Maybe look around for someone else. I understand about the dismissive nature not believing that someone is in pain or that they can “cure” it or its something you have done to cause it is just not on. I went to a counsellor once..a female..who told me my thyroid disease was because I didn’t tell people how I thought about them. That I held things in. I am not like that I call a spade a spade…silly I requested to see someone else who wasn’t going to tell such tripe.

  14. Don’t think you need another opinion since there’s so many good ones already… 😉 But I’d vote to go with your gut, and go for the original treatment that you wanted. Even if you do go back to the same lady, since she is a licensed physio, you could ask her to kindly stick to physio without the esoteric bits. You can always change your mind further down the road…your gut will tell you 😉 Good luck and fell better!

  15. If it was me, I wouldn’t go back to her simply because her title promises something quite different than what she offers. I believe in honest, up front treatments so I know what I’m getting in to. I believe in balance between relaxation and the physical and I can attest to the fact that my stress increases my pain. However, her statement that your problem wasn’t physical would lead me to believe she doesn’t know much about fibro in the first place. Exercise self-care as best you can and seek physical help elsewhere. 🙂 Just my 2 cents! (hugs)

  16. I think a “4th option” would be to stop going to this particular woman (it seems a bit devious to lure you in under one premise then bombard you with another approach). You could find another physio that sticks to their specialty. You said that you see value in mindfulness, but struggle with it. Maybe seek out someone who can support you in that approach without becoming overly esoteric.

  17. maybe this is close minded? i didn’t have your experience, but it sounds like a physiologist what amercians call a chiropractor.(my dad lives in the uk and my stepmother is english, so he’s pretty darn english and has for gotten the amercian terms for a lot of things. he has chronic back pain problems and went to someone who was a physiologist. i couldn’t figure out what kind of person he was seeing and that he was recommending to me.) i have been to one, many times, pre-fibro dx. now i’m in too much pain to let anyone manipulate my body that way. what you did was much less active, or something, but i can see how you could benefit from a phyiso.

    HOWEVER i would not go back to that woman. she’s not a trained psychiatrist or psychologist or social worker, so she should keep those emotional suggestions to herself or offer them as free opinions! it sounds like she’s acting like a fortune teller as you say. you don’t GUESS what someone is feeling by rubbing their arm. i know it’s soothing to hear things explained by anyone, with fibro, but she’s not what she thinks she is and you certainly shouldn’t be giving her 55 quid!

    i’m glad the wedding went well! enjoy married life, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me! srsly. i even popped the question, and got a no! we’ve been married 23 years, so it’s ok!

    hugs! ❤

  18. I have just been diagnosed with fibromyalgia on December 5, 2016. I had the symptoms for a long time and it became unbearable. I am a Head Start preschool teacher and my attitude changed, short tempered. It was time for me to retire. I am tired all the time and all I want to do is sleep. I don’t sleep well at night. I stopped taking naps because I am able to sleep the whole night. I know that I have to take one day at a time. This is not a mind over matter in this situation. I had support from my doctors, family and friends. i looked further for an alternative treatments, and then a friend of mine told me about Health Herbal Clinic in Johannesburg who sell herbal formula for diseases including FIBROMYALGIA disease, I contacted the herbal clinic via their website and purchased the fibromyalgia herbal remedy. I received the herbal remedy through DHL couriers within 8 days and i immediately commenced usage as prescribed, i used the herbal remedy for about a month and 1 week, my condition has greatly improved, all my symptoms including Chronic muscle pain, Abdominal pain, nausea, I am fibromyalgia free! contact Health Herbal Clinic vor visit www. healthherbalclinic. weebly. com

  19. A year ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. After years of going to see the doctor, I finally got some answers. The pain I feel seems to never go away-hurting in my lower back, legs, neck, even sometimes radiates to the very tip of my toes,I couldn’t move my right arm with out getting a lot of pain. I was 32 years old and I didn’t know if I want to see how I feel at 40 because the pain was very intense. I was taking Lyrica, it helps but I still have to be careful not to over do things. I was trying to have a child-don’t know if I’ll be able to do it! i searched for alternative treatment online and In November, 2016 I started on Health Herbal Clinic fibromyalgia disease natural herbal remedy, my fibromyalgia symptoms including Severe fatigue , Insomnia, nausea and vomiting, deteriorated over the first 6 weeks of the Fibromalgia herbal formula usage, i am now 34 with no trace of Fibromyalgia, visit the clinic website www. healthherbalclinic. net or email info @ healthherbalclinic. net The Fibro herbal formula helped me in a way i just didn’t imagine, this is a breakthrough for all fibromyalgia disease patients.

  20. I’ve been hurt before by practitioners who think they will make me better.
    I’ve also been dismissed before, by a rheumatologist (!), Who said that psychotherapy to deal with some childhood issues would solve it.
    I completely disagree with the thesis that there is no physical basis for our pain. I have very active trigger points. I get very very tight and sore muscles, particularly in my neck, they require physiotherapy every two weeks to help me keep it moving.
    I’m coming to see the body is a whole,so stress makes physical impacts, which in turn makes emotional impacts. That doesn’t mean clearing emotions can heal the pain. It means we have to treat the body as a whole.
    Good luck with finding a better physio

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