Living With Chronic Pain – Fibromyalgia Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
“I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia twelve years ago. I remember not knowing how to spell or even pronounce it, let alone knowing what it meant to have to live with it! Tears rolled down my face for two reasons – the relief that I finally discovered the cause of my excruciating pain and the realization that I was going to be in the same pain for the rest of my life,” writes Sara on her blog Fabulous & Fatigued.
Fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder associated with widespread musculoskeletal pain, general fatigue, and other life-disrupting symptoms, affects approx. 5 million adults aged 18 or over in the United States alone (Source). Yet, its causes are still unknown and it is often misdiagnosed.
Fibromyalgia – Definition and Symptoms
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by a set of symptoms that are often confused with those of arthritis. However, unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia has not been found to cause muscle or joint inflammation. It is seen as a rheumatic condition, in other words, one that causes soft tissue pain (Source).
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Morning stiffness
- Numbness or tingling of the extremities
- Restless legs syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Temperature sensitivity
- Sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
Because its symptoms overlap with many other conditions, it typically takes some time to diagnose the disorder. Furthermore, a lack of diagnostic laboratory tests can lead to a delayed diagnosis of fibromyalgia. A physical exam as well as blood tests are helpful to rule out other diseases with similar symptoms.
To support doctors and facilitate the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the American College of Rheumatology (Source) published the following three criteria:
- General pain in multiple body parts lasting longer than three months
- Symptoms such as fatigue, waking unrefreshed as well as cognitive issues
- No indication of another health problem causing the symptoms
Conditions That May Be Confused With Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a multifaceted disorder and can be confused with a large number of conditions that cause widespread aches and pains, for example:
- Myofascial pain syndrome: a chronic condition causing muscle pain; however, it does not include symptoms of fatigue or headaches, that typically occur when a patient suffers from fibromyalgia.
- Autoimmune diseases: oftentimes resemble fibromyalgia in their early stages, when they are still difficult to diagnose.
- Vitamin deficiencies: a lack of vitamin D or B12 may cause chronic muscle aches.
- Celiac disease: or gluten intolerance can cause an array of symptoms, some of which overlap with the symptoms felt by fibromyalgia patients.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome: both conditions have very similar symptoms, however, they are not the same. The most practical way to differentiate between the two is that pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia, whereas people with CFS predominantly complain about fatigue. Furthermore, the pain with fibromyalgia is mostly chronic and widespread and many patients have specific body parts (called tender points) that are extremely tender to touch.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unclear. While scientists suggests that repeated nerve stimulation may be at fault, causing the brain’s pain receptors to become more sensitive, more research needs to be done in order to understand why people suffering from fibromyalgia feel pain when others do not.
Most likely, fibromyalgia is caused by a variety of factors such as:
- Genetics: fibromyalgia seems to run in families. Therefore, your genes play an important role in your susceptibility to the disorder.
- Sex and age: Fibromyalgia is most common in middle-aged women
- Other disorders: There is often a triggering factor such as spine problems, arthritis, or other types of physical stress.
- Psychological stress: Research has shown a link between fibromyalgia and chronic stress (Source).
- Toxicities: Toxicities like heavy metals, pesticides, mold toxins call all cause inflammation, immune suppression and hormonal disruption.
- Infections: Numerous infections like bacteria, fungus, parasites can be involved or be the cause of a number of symptoms related to Fibromyalgia.
- Food Sensitivities/Leaky Gut: Food sensitivities and Leaky gut can huge contributors to inflammation not only in the gut but the whole body.
- Hormone Imbalance/Deficiency: Lowered adrenal hormones and steroid hormones cause not only energy depletion but higher inflammation as well.
While the pain patients with fibromyalgia feel is typically widespread, they are typically able to identify certain areas or points on the body that appear to be tender to touch. These tender points are extremely sensitive and become painful when pressure is applied.
Typically, tender points include:
- Upper buttocks
- Upper chest
- Front and back of the neck
Because it is so difficult to diagnose, fibromyalgia often remains untreated. There is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, with the right treatment, symptoms can be minimized and patients can learn to live a full, happy life, despite their condition.
Many times the best outcomes are achieved by using multiple types of treatments, which is why more and more patients take a balanced approach including complementary and alternative medicine. Acupuncture and other chiropractic treatments as well as making changes to your lifestyle can help you manage your fibromyalgia.
Acupuncture is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and involves the insertion of thin, sterilized needles into specific parts of the body in order to treat pain. According to Western theories of acupuncture, the needles cause changes to the blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord (Source) and can therefore help to reduce pain and stiffness in patients suffering from fibromyalgia.
Learn more about treating fibromyalgia with acupuncture – call (480)991-5555 or fill out the contact form below.
Exercise or Physical Therapy
A considerate number of people living with fibromyalgia have reported that physical therapy and exercise have helped ease their pain. Low-impact exercise such as yoga, tai chi, or even some gentler forms of aerobic are found to improve stiffness and pain, fatigue, and general wellbeing. For example, a 2017 study shows that regular yoga classes help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms such as perceived disability, depression, and fear of movement (Source). Another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research highlights the positive effects of moderate exercise on depression, stress, and chronic pain (Source).
Perhaps the most important part in managing any type of chronic condition is nutrition. People with fibromyalgia symptoms can often get a significant relief from their symptoms by changing their diet. While there is little research on fibromyalgia symptoms and nutrition, according to a 2015 study in the Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology Journal, specific dietary interventions provide a promising tool for fibromyalgia patients (Source).
According to the same 2015 study, “the elimination of gluten from the diet of FM patients is recently becoming a potential dietary intervention for clinical improvement”. Because people with fibromyalgia often experience similar symptoms to those associated with gluten-related disorders, it’s suspected that some people with fibromyalgia could have an underlying gluten sensitivity. However, as shown by a 2014 study published in Rheumatology International, even if coeliacs disease or gluten sensitivity have been ruled out, a gluten-free diet can improve symptoms associated with fibromyalgia (Source).
Limit Your Sugar Intake
Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, i.e. fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. While consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is okay, added and processed sugar can have a serious impact on your health. High amounts of processed sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation. Unfortunately, it is not enough to just skip dessert since processed sugar can lurk in unexpected foods. “In the American diet, the top sources are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup.“ (Source). Be conscious of what you consume! Read labels and cut back the amount of sugar in your food to help alleviate your fibromyalgia pain and reduce risk of inflammation.
Ask A Medical Professional About Supplements
Most Americans have a vitamin D deficiency, which, as we have established above, can cause chronic muscle aches. While fibromyalgia is complex and cannot be explained by a vitamin D deficiency alone, research has found that vitamin D supplementation is regarded as a safe and effective treatment for patients with fibromyalgia (Source). Furthermore, magnesium supplements can help reduce fatigue and inflammation (Source).
Chiropractic treatments are a form of alternative medicine that focus on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders in the musculoskeletal system as well as their impact on general health. If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chiropractic treatments can help treat the muscle and joint pain that often accompanies the disorder. Spinal manipulation, in particular, has been proven to effectively reduce symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. For example, a 2000 study shows that spinal manipulation reduces the intensity of pain, sleep disturbance, and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia (Source).
Using a variety of detox strategies, herbs and supplements can not only remove unwanted toxicities but improve immune function and reduce inflammation. Many chronic Fibromyalgia patients have unknown toxicities that we help identify and remove to see dramatic improvements in health .
Visit our Scottsdale office and learn more about treating fibromyalgia with chiropractic treatments. Call (480)991-5555 to schedule your appointment.
Living With Fibromyalgia
Even with a variety of effective treatment options available, patient self-care is crucial to improving symptoms of fibromyalgia and general well-being. In addition to medical treatments, simple lifestyle changes can reduce pain, lessen fatigue, and increase comfort and well-being. With proper treatment, you can learn to cope with fibromyalgia and live a full, happy life.
- Reduce Stress: Make time to relax each day and develop a plan to avoid overexertion. Meditation and breathing exercises can help to reduce stress that can bring on symptoms.
- Get Enough Sleep: Fatigue being one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, it is essential to develop a regular sleep pattern and getting sufficient sleep. Limit your caffeine intake and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to promote healthy sleep habits.
- Exercise Regularly: As mentioned above, exercise is an important part of your fibromyalgia treatment. At first, exercise may increase your pain, which is why it is important to go slow. Gradually add fitness and exercise into your daily routine. For example, you could start by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further away from a store. Yoga, tai chi, or gentle forms of aerobics (e.g. water aerobics) can help to decrease fibromyalgia symptoms.
- Educate Yourself and Others: Living with fibromyalgia can be challenging, not only due to the pain but the stigma associated with the disorder. Educate yourself and share your information with family, friends, and co-workers to break down the stigma and create a supportive environment for you and others suffering from the same condition. Find a doctor who is familiar with fibromyalgia and its symptoms and connect with people online to share tools and advice on living with the illness.
“Fast forward twelve years, I’ve had my share of struggles, disappointments, and frustrations. It’s difficult having an invisible illness – being in a place where nobody can ever tell how it impacts you on a daily basis, yet it affects every single decision you make in your life. I’ve come to realize that I consider it to be a blessing, and a curse at the same time.” – Sara from Fabulous & Fatigued.
Keywords: Fibromyalgia, Fibromyalgia Symptoms, Fibromyalgia Causes, Fibromyalgia Pain, Fibromyalgia Pain Relief, Fibromyalgia Diet, Chronic Pain