Holistic approach helps afflicted cope with the pain of fibromyalgia

For seven years now, Sherri Sena has coped with the pain. It’s left her sometimes bedridden, sleepless and unable to lead a normal life.

"I always had this shooting pain throughout my body that worsened with the slightest movement and I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to live with this for the rest of my life?’" she said.

Fibromyalgia affects 1.5 million adults in Canada and has been linked to depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.

“When I was first diagnosed with FMS, people didn’t understand. There were days where I felt like I couldn’t do anything and to a lot of people I came off as being lazy, because no one knew about fibromyalgia,” Sherri Sena said.

“I always had this shooting pain throughout my body that worsened with the slightest movement and I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to live with this for the rest of my life?’”

FMS is a syndrome that cannot be cured, but can be treated by a variety of different approaches.

Psychotherapy combined with
medicinal, rehabilitative treatments

Mississauga specialist Nancy Whetter says psychotherapy is most effective in treating fibromyalgia when it is combined with medicinal and rehabilitation treatment.

Whetter spoke at a recent session at the Mississauga fibromyalgia support group. She explained that psychotherapy plays an essential role in treating the chronic disorder characterized by muscle, joint or bone fatigue and pain, when in conjunction with physical rehabilitation and medical treatment.

“I call it the trimodal treatment. If you take any one of those pieces out of the ball it’s not going to roll. I think you need them all,” Whetter said.

“The success rate is very high in psychotherapy when it’s combined with rehabilitative and pharmacology treatment.”

Dr. Bruce Fligg, co-ordinator of Mississauga’s fibromyalgia support group and a chiropractor who specializes in FMS, offers a slightly different view of treatment.

“It usually takes an integrated approach, but it also depends on how (FMS) started, as to which treatment may be more effective,” Fligg said.

“In situations where there is a biochemical component because people aren’t sleeping properly, that affects the brain’s serotonin levels and that has a mood altering effect. In that situation, seeking psychotherapy help is most important.”

People develop a pain-centred life

Through psychotherapy treatment, Whetter tries to help FMS patients positively cope with their disorder.

“A lot of people develop what I call a ‘pain-centred life’ and they withdraw from activities. Part of my role in psychotherapy is to educate them about their thinking process and to challenge them to change those thoughts and beliefs about pain.” Whetter said.

“I do this so that they can appreciate who they are as a person and accept they have an illness as opposed to having the illness or syndrome define them.”

Sena, 36, says that she understands the benefits of psychotherapy when combined with other treatments; however, remains skeptical after an unsuccessful experience with psychotherapy two years ago.

“I’ve heard that a lot of people have experienced depression as a result of fibromyalgia and in that instance I think psychotherapy is a good route to consider in addition to medication,” Sena said.

“I tried the whole psychotherapy thing, but I found that I am quite satisfied with a light exercise to minimize the flare-ups and I take pain killers whenever I need them.”

Whetter says about one patient a year will not benefit from psychotherapy treatment. She says patients must be open minded to let the full advantages of psychotherapy influence the individual’s life.

“For those people who are not effected by psychotherapy, when talking about chronic pain, they don’t think about the psychological and emotional elements,” she said. 

“They have to be fairly enlightened, in order for it to work.”