Tips for Surgery with Fibromyalgia

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

If you have fibromyalgia and are facing a surgical procedure, you may have heard horror stories about post-operative flare-ups and long, painful recovery periods. While it’s true your recuperation period may take longer than that of the average person, there are steps that can be taken to reduce your pain levels and minimize your chances of a severe flare.

Woman giving paper to her doctor.

Fibromyalgia specialist's guidelines

The following guidelines have been recommended by the Fibromyalgia Information Foundation, founded by Dr. Robert Bennett and Dr. Sharon Clark along with their colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University. You may want to print copies of the FIF guidelines (Guidance for Fibromyalgia Patients who are having Elective Surgery) to share with your surgeon and anesthesiologist.

Woman talking to doctor, using laptop.

Talk to your doctors

Discuss the fact that you have fibromyalgia with your surgeon and anesthesiologist about two weeks before you are scheduled for surgery. The American Society of Anesthesiologists recommends that all herbal medications be discontinued two to three weeks before an elective procedure.

Unhappy woman in hospital bed.

Understand pain amplification

Pain after surgery is inevitable because nearly all surgeries result in trauma to the skin and muscles. This post-surgical pain is usually accentuated in fibromyalgia patients due to their enhanced pain processing, also known as central sensitization (see "Understanding Pain and Pain Amplification").

Doctor performing operation.

Request a soft neck collar

Request that you wear a soft neck collar to reduce neck hyperextension (if an endotracheal tube is anticipated). This will help minimize inadvertent stretching of your neck muscles during positioning while you are unconscious.

IV bag.

IV arm placement is important

Request that your arm with the intravenous line be kept near your body, not away from your body or over your head. This will help minimize inadvertent stretching of your arm and shoulder muscles during positioning while you are unconscious.

Anesthesiologist in operating room during surgery.

Avoid succinylcholine drug

Sometimes "postoperative myalgia" is due to the use of a muscle relaxant drug called succinylcholine. If you have experienced this in previous surgery, I suggest you mention this to your anesthesiologist.

Nurse adjusting IV medication.

Pre-operative pain medication

Request that you be given a pre-operative opioid pain medication about 90 minutes prior to surgery. Opioids are morphine or morphine-related drugs. The rationale for the pre-operative use of opioids is to minimize "central sensitization," as this inevitably worsens the widespread body pain that you are already experiencing. Two to three grams of magnesium sulfate given intravenously over a period of 45-60 minutes has also been recommended to minimize central sensitization.

Nurse with local anesthesia in syringe.

Request local anesthetic for incision

Ask to have a long-acting local anesthetic infiltrated into your incision — even though you will be asleep during the procedure. The rationale for this is to minimize pain impulses reaching the spinal cord and brain, which in turn drive central sensitization.

Woman in hospital recovery room after surgery.

Post-operative pain medication

Postoperatively you will need more, and usually a longer duration of, post-operative pain medication. In most cases opioids should be regularly administered or self-administered with a PCA pump (patient controlled analgesia).

Senior man having physical therapy.

Post-operative physical therapy

Postoperatively you will require a longer duration of post-operative convalescence, including physical therapy in many cases. Gentle stretching and reconditioning of muscles should start soon after the incision is well healed.

Couple online.

Following surgical guidelines does make a difference

For a firsthand account of how applying these guidelines can significantly improve your surgical recovery experience, read “Facing Surgery with Fibromyalgia.”

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.