Physical Therapies To Treat Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain

Physical Therapies To Treat Fibromyalgia & Chronic PainPin
Physical Therapies To Treat Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain

In this final post in the Fibromyalgia series, I cover physical therapies that are used to help decrease fibromyalgia pain. These therapies can also help chronic pain from other causes. These therapies include Physical Therapy (PT), Occupational Therapy (OT), Massage, devices like a TENS unit or the Oska Pulse, and using heating pads or cold packs.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be very helpful for fibromyalgia pain. When we’re in pain we tend to hold ourselves in a rigid way in an attempt to decrease the pain. Over time, this protective measure can lead to stiffness, and more pain in other areas. A physical therapist can help identify where we are too stiff, and uses various techniques to help reduce stiffness, and improve our range of motion. They also can identify weak muscles and show us exercises to strengthen them. Gentle stretches and using heat or cold can become part of our Pain Relief Toolkit. For best results try to find a physical therapist who understands fibromyalgia well.

In my experience, physical therapy works better for me when I speak up if something is increasing my pain. Not every therapy will benefit you. For example, heat on my neck makes my neck pain much worse. So I use an icepack for neck pain. Speak up about how your body is responding to any treatment your PT wants to try. In that way you and your therapist can find what helps you the most. You can read Fibromyalgia and Physical Therapy to learn more.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists help you learn how to manage daily tasks in a way that lessons joint strain, and reduces fatigue. They can help you make modifications to your office or home that make it easier for you to do daily tasks. They can show you how to use mobility aids such as canes, walkers, tub seats, etc.

I hadn’t thought about the benefits of occupational therapists for my fibromyalgia symptoms until I broke my right shoulder. Since the grab bars in my bathroom were located on the right side wall, I needed a way to get into and out of my tub safely. I had thought that a tub seat was for the elderly. But I still use that tub seat today. Showers were exhausting before I started using the tub seat. By using the tub seat I don’t get anywhere near as tired as I use to when standing up to shower.

Also, many of the tricks they taught me in the kitchen to manage one handed, I still use today. I have a lot of pain in my hands and wrists and these tips help me prepare food with less strain on them.

If you’re really struggling with household tasks, an occupational therapist can help. for more info, you can read Occupational Therapy.

Massage Therapy

According to the American Massage Therapy Association:

“Of all the alternative therapies available, more and more research is showing that massage therapy provides real benefits to people dealing with a number of health conditions, including fibromyalgia. A study in 2011 showed that massage therapy caused reductions in sensitivity to pain at tender points in patients with FM, as well as lowering anxiety levels and increasing quality of sleep.3 Another study from 2014, which systematically reviewed nine other studies about massage therapy and FM, found that massage therapy had immediate beneficial effects on improving pain, anxiety and depression in patients with FM.4

American Massage Therapy Association

In order for massage therapy to be helpful, you really need a massage therapist trained in treating people with physical ailments. A massage that is not tailored to your specific needs will not provide the benefits you need. As with physical therapy, you need to speak up if the pressure is too hard, or if something is increasing your pain. Combining your physical therapy exercises with massage therapy can be very helpful in reducing pain and preventing flares.

Writing this has reminded me that it’s been way too long since my last massage, so I stopped to schedule one.

Devices To Treat Localized Pain

TENS unit

There are several different devices currently available to treat pain confined to a specific area. The first one is called a TENS unit. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It uses an electric current to stimulate the nerves and muscles under the area where the pads are placed.

TENS pads on the upper back for pain relief.Pin
TENS pads on the upper back for pain relief.

The unit has dials to increase or lessen the stimulation, and some units have the ability to alter what type of stimulation is delivered. These machines were once only available in a Physical therapy office. They are very beneficial to help heal injured areas on the body, and to provide pain relief as part of a physical therapy program. People with implanted pacemakers should not use a TENS unit. They also should not be used on your head, sides or front of your neck or on broken skin. I purchased a home TENS unit after using one in physical therapy for back pain. I don’t use it that much, because its difficult to place the sticky pads on the painful spots on my back. If you have other people in your household to help you, it works much better. Learn more about TENS therapy here:

Before purchasing one, I recommend you try it first to see if it helps your pain. A physical therapist can help with that.

OSKA Pulse

The second device is called an OSKA Pulse. “Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy has 60 years of clinical success in relieving pain at the source by pulsing electromagnetic waves at precise frequencies.” In clinical studies this device has shown itself to be an effective and safe way to treat injured and diseased tissues.

Using my Oska Pulse on my knee.Pin
Using my Oska Pulse on my knee.

The OSKA Pulse device is hand sized and comes with a strap so you can position the device easily on your back. My device has a 30 minute run time. The new devices have a 90 minute run time. They are pretty expensive, but if you look for sales or shop on Cyber Monday, you can get a better price. When first starting to use it, it may make the area hurt a bit more. They recommend starting with shorter treatment times, and placing the device farther away from the painful area. I love mine! You can read my review of this device here:

These are not the only devices on the market. However, they are the ones I use and recommend.

Using Heat Or Cold for Pain Relief

While pain relief devices are pricey, you can still get pain relief on a budget by using heat or cold therapy for your pain. I’ve created two posts on this topic with my tips. You can read them below. Check with your doctor to see if there are any reasons you should not be using heat or cold on your painful area beforehand.

For The Best Cold Packs:

For The Best Heating Pads:

Wrap-Up Of Physical Therapies To Treat Chronic Pain

When you’re struggling with pain all you want is pain relief. These physical therapies can help prevent the need for medication in the future or reduce the dose you need of pain pills. In my experience not any one thing solves all my pain. So consult your doctor, and see which of these therapies she/he thinks will help. Then try them. If you have any questions or thoughts about what therapy has worked for you, I’d love to hear it in the comments below. Till next time, Kathy

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By Kathryn

I'm a writer, disabled registered nurse, and former home school parent of 6 children ages 19 to 32. I'm also a domestic abuse survivor.


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