Fibromyalgia is a common cause of generalized musculoskeletal pain. It is most often seen in women between the ages of 20 and 55 years, but can also be seen in children and men. It is a chronic pain disorder affecting the soft tissues; muscles, fascia, ligaments, and tendons. Fibromyalgia interferes with pain processing in the central nervous system and contributes to low levels of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter.
Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread body aches, ongoing fatigue, unrefreshed sleep and cognitive dysfunction. Patients can experience excessive tenderness to the touch, headaches, irritable bowel and bladder symptoms, depression, anxiety and sometimes joint pain. Some patients report feelings of numbness, tingling, burning, or crawling sensations in their arms and legs. Others speak of suffering from “fibro fog” and difficulty concentrating. Even with the proper amount of sleep, fibromyalgia patients often wake up feeling stiff, sore and tired.
Except for signs of fatigue, patients exhibit no visible pathology or abnormalities with this disorder. There is no tissue inflammation, and no specific diagnostic laboratory tests. Physical and emotional factors can trigger symptoms leading to high levels of stress. Although Fibromyalgia is not a degenerative disease or life threatening, it can be a challenging disorder requiring active patient involvement to achieve successful management.
There are no quick fixes for this condition but many people find relief through comprehensive supportive treatments. Fibromyalgia patients respond best to a multidisciplinary approach combining traditional and complementary medicine, physical rehabilitation and an individualized self-care treatment plan. Helpful measures in reducing symptoms can include: gentle progressive aerobic exercise, meditation, yoga, energy work, manual therapy, natural therapies, homeopathy, dietary modifications and prescription medication.
Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose. Many office visits, including physical exams and a detailed medical history are required in order to exclude all other diagnoses including autoimmune or infectious disease conditions. In treating fibromyalgia, we look at lifestyle. We often recommend: exercise, physical therapy, proper sleep and nutrition habits, relaxation techniques, an anti-inflammatory diet, Omega 3 fish oil, and other supplements. Medications such as Lyrica, Cymbalta, and Savella may be utilized, as well as some antidepressants and pain medication.
Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at the root of fibromyalgia as well as the following symptomatic branches. Studies show that after just two months, acupuncture is effective in reducing pain sensitivity, specifically at the tender points. Improvements are found in pain thresholds (the point at which sensation becomes pain), pain sensitivity, anxiety and depression. Acupuncture techniques can greatly decrease pain sensations and improve quality of life.
Bowenwork’s gentle moves take the body out of the daily sympathetic (fight-or-flight) response and help promote the parasympathetic (rest-and-repair) mode. This initiates a healing response, allowing the body to relax and lower pain levels. Studies show dramatic shifts in the nervous system of fibromyalgia patients after receiving Bowenwork. Patients experience some relief of symptoms immediately, with varying degrees of improvement over time. Medication needs can be significantly reduced once tender areas can tolerate increased pressure.
Cranio-Sacral is a light-touch approach focusing on releasing physical and emotional restrictions and body tensions. Releasing soft tissue memory frees the body and mind of the residual effects of past trauma or injury to decrease fibromyalgia symptoms. The result is a more relaxed body that can begin to self-correct and heal.
Chiropractic adjustments create movement in the joints and tissues of the spine which may have been previously fixated or stuck. This allows for more motion to occur in the spine, and thus more ability for the body to inhibit pain. Chiropractic adjustments, through movement, stimulate the release of pain inhibiting chemicals in the brain. These chemical substances can promote pain reduction giving fibromyalgia patients lasting relief.
Nutrient insufficiencies and factors that create these challenges are assessed by integrative nutritionists with the intention to identify a therapeutic combination of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Digestive symptoms are reviewed to determine the possibility of dysbiosis or “yeast connection” issues. Herbs, probiotics, and other tools are essential in reversing this condition as a contributing factor. Pain management, musculoskeletal wellness, and decreased inflammation through anti-inflammatory foods, herbs, and specific nutrient dense foods is critical to fibromyalgia resolution.
Naturopathic doctors work to investigate a range of possible causes leading to fibromyalgia utilizing natural treatment methods. Patients often exhibit an underlying disorder in the metabolism of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood, and have disrupted sleep patterns. Thyroid disorders are also common in this population. Herbal medicine and classical homeopathy are particularly useful in fibromyalgia management and can offer great relief.
Massage therapy releases fascial restrictions in the body. This reduces pain, decreases anxiety and depression symptoms, and can be an effective treatment for those with fibromyalgia. Massage improves the quality of sleep, reduces the use of pain medication(s) and improves the overall quality of physical and emotional health.
Physical Therapy helps identify functional limitations and establish personal goals to improve lifestyle, relieve pain, and restore function. A physical therapist teaches patients to interpret the severity of pain signals and reduce pain with structured exercise. A well designed exercise program plays an important role in the management of fibromyalgia but the fear of pain often prevents individuals from exercising. As experts in improving mobility, therapists can develop an individualized plan based on the problems that clients experience. Patients find they sleep better, focus more effectively, and experience a greater sense of well-being.
Psychotherapy offers a valuable adjunct to medical treatments for fibromyalgia. Therapy offers a safe place to discuss thoughts and feelings associated with the struggles that can come with symptoms. Patients often feel isolated because they think friends and family will not understand, or do not want to further burden loved ones. Therapy empowers people to find their own voice to reshape negative thoughts. Psychotherapy also helps people develop coping strategies to deal with chronic pain and limitations. Individual therapy, couples, family, or group work can all be beneficial depending on where a person is in their relationship with the condition.
Fibromyalgia presents energetically as exhaustion of the mind, body, and spirit. With energy medicine, pain can be subsidized by using deep relaxation techniques and efforts to quiet the thought cycle associating fear with pain.