What Kind of Doctor Treats Fibromyalgia?
What Kind of Doctor Treats Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a complicated condition affecting the central nervous system and immune system – so a multidisciplinary approach to treatment is the evidence-based best practice. This may require a combination of specialists to support you to live well with your fibromyalgia.
In this article we take you through some of the cast of specialists that you may interact with on your fibromyalgia journey through from diagnosis to treatment and re-assessment or flare up management.
What kind of doctor treats fibromyalgia?
Introducing some of the main healthcare professionals you may consider working with for diagnosing and treatment your fibromyalgia (in no particular order):
- Primary Care Physicians/GP: Often your first port of call, your local doctor can help with identifying fibromyalgia and coordinating care with other specialists via referrals. Many of the other doctors on the list below require a referral from a primary health provider before you can be seen with variable waiting times.
- Rheumatologist: These are doctors (with around 7+ years of specialised training) who specialize in rheumatic diseases, which affect joints, bones, muscles and other connective tissues (such as musculoskeletal pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, lupus and other auto-immune diseases). Rheumatologists are usually the primary specialists for fibromyalgia management.
- Psychologist or mental health professional: Due to the significant impact of fibromyalgia on mental health, with common occurrences of anxiety and depression, mental health professionals can be a valuable part of your healthcare team to help with managing the psychological aspects of the condition1. Clinical Psychologists (who specialise in mental health, behavioural, and emotional disorders) may be able to provide cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic techniques, like mindfulness to help manage the pain and emotional stress of living with a chronic condition.
- Physical therapist (physiotherapist): These clinician help in managing pain by improving mobility and function using physical therapy. They can teach you exercises and stretches that are likely to increase your level of movement gradually over time without making your symptoms worse.
- Neurologist: Since fibromyalgia involves the nervous system and can cause neurological symptoms like tingling and numbness, neurologists may be involved in the treatment, especially if there are concerns about overlapping neurological conditions.
- Endocrinologist: Could hormones be the problem? If stress or hormonal imbalance is a possible cause or trigger of your symptoms, an endocrinologist may be able to provide some advice and support as well as rule out any other possible co-occuring conditions relating to endocrine glands and hormones.
- Occupational therapist: Need some help managing daily activities? An OT can help manage fibro symptoms by teaching you tools for energy conservation, work simplification, and other strategies to function more effectively and confidently.
- Pain specialist: Doctors who specialize in pain medicine can help manage the chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia. They may offer various pain management techniques and therapies and are also often an entry point into hospital-based pain management programs.
- Other complementary and holistic therapists: This includes a range of therapists who specialize in specific areas and might include therapists such as chiropractors, osteopaths, sleep experts, acupuncture or massage therapists, nutritionists or dieticians etc. These specialists can offer support in managing symptoms and offer advice on lifestyle factors that might be a causal factor in fibro symptoms and flare ups (such as foods that might trigger inflammation).
Knowledge is power
What to look for in a treatment team
Here are 3 things to look for when finding a member of your fibro team:
- They understand fibro. Select a practitioner who is familiar with fibromyalgia as there can still be some clinicians who are using outdated information and think fibro is in the “too-hard basket”. It's okay to ask them if they have had experience working with patients with fibro and or get a second opinion.
- Whole-of-person approach. Often people living with fibro may experience multiple conditions and so you want a healthcare provider to take a whole of person approach. This means someone willing to listen to your complete history, current medications and symptoms. This information is critical as sometimes a medication for one condition can amplify your fibro symptoms (or vice versa).
- It's the vibe. There's no real science to this one but you will know the “feeling” of working with a healthcare professional who understands you and makes you feel comfortable. If you are getting an icky vibe, don't ignore it - maybe it's time to find someone else. It's important to ensure your healthcare provider takes an evidence-based approach to your care and treatment.
How to ‘find a fibromyalgia doctor near me’
There’s nothing like word of mouth to get a recommendation for a new healthcare provider. Ask your friends and family for who they see and their experiences. A common question in online fibromyalgia support communities is about healthcare professionals - ask the people in the know. You can try Googling for a healthcare provider in your area - some will have reviews or feedback. Many therapists have associations where you can also access information about therapists in your area. You may also be able to find some reviews for relevant companies/professionals on review-based platforms like TrustPilot. If you want some extra support, join our Living Well with Fibromyalgia Facebook Community.
- Be prepared. Wherever possible, come prepared to your appointment. This might mean having written a detailed account of symptoms, anything you have noticed that might trigger flare ups, any questions or concerns - this will help ensure you have a meaningful and productive conversation.
- Access considerations. Where you live can impact your ability to access adequate healthcare and we acknowledge the significant impact of the social determinants of health including gender discrimination for both women and men with fibromyalgia. Research suggests many people living with fibromyalgia have experienced traumatic life incidents.2 Many people with fibro report having had negative experiences in healthcare settings or having been exposed to stigmatisation by the medical system3. If you have had bad experiences in the past, please know that diagnosis, treatment and research into fibro has come a long way, the right people for you are out there.
- Diagnosis. If you are seeking a fibro diagnosis, be sure your doctor has all the latest information. For example, tender points can be a bit of a tender point, ahem. Although the tender point examination has been embedded in the culture of fibromyalgia diagnosis over the past three decades, it is no longer included in the current diagnostic criteria. Currently, there is no specific diagnostic laboratory test or biomarker available for the diagnosis of FM.
- What else is going on? Be sure to have any other conditions ruled out. There are a number of conditions that can mimic fibromyalgia and/or occur together such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Osteoarthritis and careful clinical evaluation will ensure these other conditions are excluded.
- What you can control. Also, don't forget the number one person likely to help manage your fibro is…you! There may be a wait involved before you can see some of these doctors, so looking after yourself in the meantime might involve some deliberate self-care strategies, taking a pacing approach to your daily activities and taking an active approach in your own well being journey and addressing any obstacles that might be getting in the way of you taking control of your health journey.
And for more ideas, check out these 6 ways to boost your self-advocacy.
Pulling together your fibro dream team
It really does take a village and with fibro, a multidisciplinary team will mean comprehensive care. This team approach can address the wide range of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia and provide a more effective management plan. And when it comes to the dream team, don't forget those closest to you, your friends and family also provide a great resource for support.
If you need some extra help, our MoreGoodDays app includes information on the evidence-based treatments for fibromyalgia and how to advocate for yourself with your healthcare team. If you’d like to learn more, why not Download the MoreGoodDays app from the App Store or Google Play to access free content straight away.