If you are like most people with lupus, you have experienced pain at some time, especially in your joints and muscles, or in the form of headaches. However, the types of pain associated with lupus usually go away when the inflammation and disease activity are brought under control.
Chronic and often severe muscle pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia, a disease that affects about 30 percent of people with lupus. Although fibromyalgia is still not well understood, its diagnosis is based on widespread and often extreme pain and sensitivity at 18 "tender points." These points occur on both sides of the body at the same time, in the areas of the neck, shoulders, chest, hips, knees, and elbows.
A variety of medicines can help ease pain caused by lupus and fibromyalgia. More information about medicines used to treat pain is available in the LFA publication, "Treating Lupus." Pain medicines are helpful, and in many instances necessary. But, because there are always risks and side effects, it is good to know some other approaches to pain relief.
- Heat and/or cold applications are often recommended for different kinds of joint and muscle pain. Moist heat soothes painful joints much better than dry heat, so soaking in a hot tub, sauna, or whirlpool, using a moist heated towel, or taking a hot shower can be helpful. Ice or cold applications are advisable only for strained or twisted muscles or injuries during the first 36 hours after the injury.
- Behavioral techniques, such as progressive relaxation, meditation, self-hypnosis, focused breathing, low-impact yoga, Tai Chi, and guided imagery also can be effective tools for pain management. By directing your mind’s attention away from the experience of pain, these methods help to relieve the stress and tension that can actually make pain worse. Safe and easy to do at home, these techniques have the added benefit of allowing you to take control of the pain, rather than just reacting to it and suffering with it.
- Alternative and otherwise non-conventional health and healing practices also are used for pain relief and may be effective for you. Among these techniques are acupuncture and acupressure, biofeedback, and chiropractic adjustments. It is important that anyone with lupus who is considering complementary or alternative treatments for pain or other symptoms first discuss such treatments with his or her physician.