Fibromyalgia Treatment Q&A
People with fibromyalgia have chronic pain and tenderness all of the body. They are often diagnosed by doctors based on tender spots (also referred to as tender points) in certain places in their body.
- Front and back of the neck
- Mid- to upper-back of the shoulders
- Upper chest
- Upper buttocks
Other common fibromyalgia symptoms include sleep problems and tiredness.
The word fibromyalgia comes from the Latin term for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek ones for muscle (myo) and pain (algia). Fibromyalgia syndrome is chronic disorder which includes widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points that affects 3-6 million people in the United States. For reasons that are unclear, more than 90% of those who develop fibromyalgia are women.
People who have fibromyalgia may experience:
- Sleep disturbances
- Morning stiffness
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Painful menstrual periods
- Numbness or tingling of the extremities
- Restless legs syndrome
- Temperature sensitivity
- Cognitive and memory problems (sometimes referred to as “fibro fog”)
The Basics of Fibromyalgia
The latest research indicates that fibromyalgia is a stress-related condition that is a cousin in Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (often referred to as simply ‘lupus’) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In all three of these conditions, there is the same predominantly female distribution, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritable bowel, as well as many other similarities. You can think about these three conditions as lying on a continuum with Fibromyalgia on one end, Lupus on the other and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the middle. All three of these conditions are caused by an abnormal stress response in the body, but with Lupus, the immune system is primarily affected, causing an autoimmune reaction that attacks your health tissues. On the other end of the spectrum is fibromyalgia, where metabolic abnormalities are primary. These metabolic changes are the result of a stress-induced decrease in blood flow to an area of the brain called the pituitary. This, in turn causes a decrease in a number of important hormones, such as the growth hormone releasing hormone (somatotropin) and the thyroid stimulating hormone. These hormonal changes lead to abnormal muscle healing, borderline or full-blown hypothyroid, as well as memory and cognitive changes.
Fibromyalgia can be difficult to treat. Not all doctors are familiar with fibromyalgia and its treatment, so it is important to find a doctor who is. Fibromyalgia treatment often requires a team approach, utilizing chiropractic care, trigger point therapy, massage, dietary changes as well as exercises and stretching.
Treating Fibromyalgia with Chiropractic
Chiropractic care is critical for those who suffer from fibromyalgia in order to keep the spine and muscles from losing too much movement. The loss of movement in the spine results in a neurological reflex that causes the muscles to tighten further.
Treating Fibromyalgia with Trigger Point Therapy
The overwhelming characteristic of fibromyalgia is long-standing, body-wide pain with defined tender points, and frequently, trigger points. Trigger points are often confused with “tender points”. They are not the same. A trigger point needs firm pressure to elicit pain, while tender points are painful with even very light pressure. Trigger points will refer pain to other areas of the body, whereas tender points will not. Unlike tender points, trigger points can occur in isolation and represent a source of radiating pain, even in the absence of direct pressure. As discussed earlier, trigger points are purely comprised of spasmed muscle fibers, whereas tender points are knots filled with ground substance. Those with fibromyalgia almost always have a combination of the two – trigger points and tender points – and can improve dramatically with light trigger point therapy.
Trigger point therapy for fibromyalgia is much like trigger point therapy for low back pain, neck pain or headaches. The points are the same. The difference is just intensity. Since the muscles in patients with fibromyalgia are easily injured and take longer to heal, it is necessary to use less pressure on their trigger points.
Treating Fibromyalgia with Laser Therapy is one of the Best Options, without the use of any Medication
Since poor healing of muscle tissue and chronic pain are characteristic traits of fibromyalgia, laser therapy is an important part of any treatment plan. Two of the major benefits of laser therapy is stimulation of tissue healing and pain. A 1997 Study of 846 people with fibromyalgia reported in the Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine and Surgery demonstrated that two-thirds of the patients experienced improved pain and mobility with cold laser therapy. Another study published in Rheumatology International in 2002, showed that those who received laser therapy had a significant improvement in pain, fatigue and morning stiffness.
Self-Care for Fibromyalgia
Your day to day lifestyle choices have a tremendous impact on how much impact fibromyalgia will have on your life. The difference between those who take care of themselves and those who do not is tremendous. Those who make lifestyle changes to help their fibromyalgia suffer much less pain, are able to remain more active and have a much higher quality of life than those who do not. If you have fibromyalgia, here are some of the main things that you can do on a daily basis to help your body:
8 Hours of Good Sleep
Getting enough sleep and the right kind of sleep can help ease the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia, but it is something that can be hard to get. Many people with fibromyalgia have problems such as pain, restful sleep. Insomnia is very common. Although alcohol may help you to relax, it is not recommended before bed as it has been shown to interfere with restful sleep. Some of those with fibromyalgia have found 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP) very helpful, as well as prescription anti-depressant amitriptyline. Typically, we don’t recommend taking prescription drugs, but in this case, it is difficult to heal without enough sleep.
Improved fitness through exercise is recommended. Studies have shown that fibromyalgia symptoms can be relived with aerobic exercise. Though pain and fatigue may make exercise daily activities difficult, it’s crucial to be as actively as possible. The best way to begin a fitness program is to start with low impact exercises, like walking and swimming. Starting slowly helps stretch and mobilize tight, sore muscles. High-impact aerobics and weight lifting could cause increased discomfort, so pay attention to your body. The more you can exercise, the better off you will be.
Foods, just like anything else, have the ability to either stress your body or to help your body heal. Foods that tend to be stressful on the body include: dairy, eggs, wheat, corn, as well as anything with monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates or nitrites (as are found in processed foods). Several environmental toxins may also contribute to the overall physical stress on your body, therefore fish should be avoided as well. It is important that you eat as much clean, organically grown fresh foods as possible. Base your diet around whole foods such as: brown rice, legumes, oats, spelt, rice milk, soy, hormone-free chicken or turkey, roots, nuts and berries.
There are dozens of nutritional products that claim to be ‘the answer’ for fibromyalgia. To date, none of them have proven to be of much long-term benefit for anyone. However, there are some people who have used magnesium malate with good results, some people who have used ginkgo biloba with good results and others with various herbals. The bottom line with nutritional supplements is that, to date, there is nothing that works for everyone. If you come across something that you would like to try, by all means do so, as long as you check with your chiropractor first to ensure that it won’t interfere with any of your other treatments.