Facing Surgery With Fibromyalgia

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

For the past few years, I've been advising people with fibromyalgia to follow certain precautionary procedures when having surgery to reduce post-operative pain and fibro-flares during recovery.
These procedures were originally developed by renowned FM researcher, Dr. Robert Bennett.

While the tips all made good sense from a biological perspective, I hadn't had any surgery since being diagnosed with FM, so I couldn't share any personal experiences as to how well they worked.
But now I can.
On Monday I had a surgical breast biopsy and I can tell you that following these procedures made a huge difference.

I've been fearful of having any type of surgery ever since my Mother had a portion of her large intestine removed about a dozen or so years ago.
The whole time I was visiting my Mom in the hospital, we could hear a lady moaning and crying.
I overheard the nurses talking about her, saying they felt so bad for her because she had fibromyalgia and they just couldn't get her post-surgical pain under control.
Since I had recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, that really scared me.

I felt somewhat better when Dr. Bennett first published his recommendations for FM patients having surgery, knowing that at least something could be done to improve the chances I wouldn't end up like the poor lady I had heard suffering years before.
But, of course, until I experienced it myself, I didn't know just how well the precautions might work.

Thankfully, my surgeon understands fibromyalgia and she was willing to work with me in following the recommended precautions.
And the hospital was also conscientious about pain control.
At my pre-admission visit, they even gave me a pamphlet about my right to pain management.
That was encouraging.

Our goal was to prevent the pain cycle from getting started by preventing central sensitization.
Although there are a number of different precautions that can and should be taken for more extensive surgeries, in my particular case there were four key steps:

  • A couple of hours prior to surgery I was given morphine intravenously to minimize central sensitization.

  • My surgeon numbed the area where she would make the incision, even though I wasn't awake to feel it, so that pain impulses would not be sent to the brain, which could trigger central sensitization.

  • In the recovery room, I was given Dilaudid intravenously - again to prevent the pain cycle from getting a foothold.

  • Finally, I was sent home with a prescription for hydrocodone so I could continue to keep the pain at bay.

I'm happy to report that, other than a very small amount of tingling and soreness the first day, I've had virtually no pain from the surgery.
For someone with FM, that is truly amazing
And more good news - I just got the results of the biopsy and it was benign.

I know that this was a relatively minor surgical procedure, but it does show me that it is possible to prevent central sensitization.
Since a stubbed toe can leave me in pain for hours, being able to go through a surgical procedure without pain is a very big deal.

If you have FM and ever have to go through any kind of surgery, I want to encourage you to print out the "Precautions for Fibromyalgia Patients Having Surgery" and discuss them thoroughly with your surgeon.
If your surgeon is not willing to follow the recommended procedures, you might want to look for another surgeon because it can make a tremendous difference in your post-operative pain and recovery.

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.