Even the simplest tasks can pose a challenge to people with FM. The good news is there are countless tools and alternatives that can make things easier. Here, therapists who work with people who have FM, and FM patients themselves, share their tips.
Dianne Whiting, who has a Fibromyalgia Management Program in Casa Colina Hospital in Pomona, Calif., recommends people with FM keep their arms supported as much as possible, to help stave off common neck and shoulder stress. She suggests trying “moshi pillows” (you may find them marketed under a different name)—soft cylindrical pillows filled with tiny polypropylene beads that make them moldable as well as supportive. You can find pillows like this at stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond and Walgreens. “I recommend them for the car,” says Whiting. “As a passenger, one can ‘hug’ it and support the arms; as a driver you can rest it on top of the right arm rest for more support.”
Also try placing a pillow between your knees and ankles when you are sleeping on your side, to improve your body’s alignment. You may also want to “hug” a pillow in your arms to keep your shoulders aligned and prevent neck and shoulder stress. Ginny Wright, who was diagnosed with FM and rheumatoid arthritis in 2000, also uses a memory foam mattress topper that helps her get a better night’s sleep.
Keep a step-stool in the kitchen and anywhere else you may need to stretch your arms above your head to reach items (your bedroom closet, the garage, the video cabinet, etc.).
Shari Wells uses a long-handed, collapsible pole to reach up and grab things she needs—or even to turn on the overhead light in the kitchen! “I even use this to pick up litter from my floor when I cannot bend down,” she adds. “It’s also good for cleaning outside around the house wherever bits of unwanted matter accumulate.”
One Australian patient discovered that using a broom to scrub her bathtub prevents the pain that can result from bending over.
If you live in a home of more than one story, try keeping supplies on each floor. Kelley Monahan of Virginia keeps her medication as well as certain other frequently-used products on each floor of her three-story townhouse. “I keep my medications split into four containers, one for each floor and one for my purse, so when I need to take them I don't have to go up and down stairs,” she says.
“I have two dogs and I keep dog dishes and toys on each floor so I don't have to go up and down. I also do this with things like sweatshirts and slippers for when I ultimately get too cold or too hot.” She keeps cleaning products on each floor, too, so when she is cleaning house she doesn’t have to add “traipsing from floor to floor” to the agenda. “Since I am not making as many trips up and down the stairs, I have a lot less leg pain,” she explains.
Get a Grip
Whiting recommends covering your car steering wheel with a cover that has bumps on it. The bumps help the driver grip the wheel more easily, and make it easier to turn.
You may also want to consider the handles and knobs you use in your house. When Wright remodeled her house, she switched all the doorknobs to an “S” type, which she finds easier to open; the water taps are all levers, not knobs that can be challenging to turn.
Invest in some rubberized “netting,” the kind of material that is often used to create non-slip mats. Cut a couple of squares about the size of your hand, and use them to make jar-opening easier. “This gives you a non-slip surface that is easier grip, and it is not bulky to get your hand around like the ones you buy in the shops,” says Karen Harvey of Britain.
Some Like It Hot
Many people with FM find heating pads very helpful in easing their pain. Whiting suggests a particular pad called a “Thermophore.” Not only is it oversized, but this pad draws moisture out of the air, rather than requiring a dampened sponge or other material be inserted inside of it. If price is an issue, you may want to consider a heating pad that you can warm in the microwave and then apply where you need it.
If writing is challenging for you because skinny pens and pencils make your fingers cramp, try buying larger-sized pencils—or rubber grips that you can apply to them, making them fatter and easier to grip.
Kids today use backpacks with wheels to haul their homework to school. Why not try a rolling cart or a wheeled bag to help you carry things from place to place with more ease? Wright uses one to transport wet laundry to the dryer, so she doesn’t have to carry the heavy wet clothes. “Once they're dry, I can use the cart to fold them on,” she says.
Debbie Leslie of Tacoma, Wash., uses a plastic laundry basket to accomplish the same end. “I use it to put everything in that is out of place, and then when I go through the room it belongs in, I drop it off. It is so much better than walking back and fourth a thousand times,” she says. “Also, my husband Rick placed a milk crate by the front door, we all put our shoes in it and at the end of each day one of the kids puts shoes away.”
Gloria Norman of Maricopa, Ariz., uses her rolling computer chair to roll around the house when she is sweeping or mopping. She also rests in it when she’s doing meal prep. “I'm not as worn out doing it this way as when I stand too long while working on chores and wearing myself out,” she says.
Cyndi Kerrigan uses a kids’ wagon to pull groceries from the car to the house. Be creative!
Timing is Everything
After a gardening “escapade” put her in a flare that lasted for three weeks, Susan Learned enlisted the help of her sister in keeping her activities down to a manageable length of time. “When I go outside to garden, I call my sister and ask her to call me in a specified period of time—for me, one and a half hours works fine for the first leg. Then when she calls me, we chat about stuff until I get antsy to get back to work. We then agree on the amount of time to pass before she calls me again—usually the time shortens,” says Learned. “The other day she even called me to tell me to stop working for the day!”
Do you have a tip you’d like to share? Email it to email@example.com, and we may use it in a future tips story.