Fibromyalgia (fie-bro-my-AL-jee-uh), or FM, is a chronic pain illness that causes aches and tenderness in the muscles, as well as sleep problems, fatigue, and other symptoms. These symptoms often disrupt your daily activities. The pain usually occurs in the neck and shoulders, back, hands, and pelvis. FM patients experience several symptoms with varying intensities that come and go over time. Luckily, FM does not permanently damage the joints or muscles, but the pain associated with it can make having FM very difficult to live with.
Approximately 4 million Americans are suspected of having FM. It sometimes occurs in conjunction with other muscle or joint diseases, so determining how many people have fibromyalgia is difficult. FM is age and race blind, but a higher percentage of women have been diagnosed with the condition. The chances of getting this disorder increase with age. Often, people who have had a recent infectious disease (like Lyme's disease) or have autoimmune disorders (like lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis) are more likely to be diagnosed with FM.
Fibromyalgia is associated with 18 specific tender points on the body that are painful when you press directly on them. Other symptoms include headaches, morning stiffness, difficulty concentrating, Raynaud's phenomenon (a circulatory problem affecting the small blood vessels of the skin), and irritable bowel syndrome. Anxiety and depression are also common in people with FM and may make symptoms worse. The exhaustion associated with FM is debilitating and interferes with even the simplest of daily activities.
Many fibromyalgia patients have a sleep disorder, which prevents them from getting restful and restorative sleep. While sleeping, scientists have reported periods of awakening brain activity, in patients with FM, which reduces the amount of "deep sleep", which is important in repairing the body. As if that weren't bad enough, FM patients can also experience headaches and migraines, restless legs syndrome, impaired memory and concentration, skin rashes, dry eyes and mouth, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears, dizziness, vision problems, neurological symptoms, and impaired coordination.
The pain associated with FM has no limitations; it will migrate to any part of the body and vary in intensity level. It has been described as deep muscular aching, throbbing, twitching, stabbing, and shooting pain. Some patients experience numbness, tingling, and burning that add to the discomfort. The symptoms are often worse in the morning. You may also experience flares that are followed by periods where symptoms are dormant. Symptoms can get worse in cold and damp weather, with emotional stress, or if you overexert yourself. If you can't do certain activities because of pain, try doing it differently or don't do it at all.
While the underlying cause is undetermined, most researchers agree that Fibromyalgia is a disorder of the Central Nervous System (CNS). It may be related to oversensitive nerves or an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Whatever the cause, studies indicate that FM patients show increased levels of substance P, low levels of blood flow to the thalamus, low levels of serotonin and tryptophan, along with abnormalities in the immune system. Some studies show that genetic factors predispose you to being susceptible to FM; however, in a large percentage of patients, symptoms of FM have been triggered by an illness or injury. Scientist will continue to study the idea that FM is a defect in the CNS.
Chiropractic therapy is based on the theory that a person's health is determined by the status of the CNS and its relation to the spine and muscles, without the use of medication or surgery. The idea that spinal manipulation would alleviate the CNS abnormalities associated with FM stands to reason because spinal manipulation is used to relieve pressure and increase blood flow to specific nerves.
There is no specific test to determine if you have FM and is often diagnosed by ruling out other conditions. On average, it takes 5 years to be diagnosed with FM because the symptoms of other conditions can overlap. Your chiropractor will test the 18 specific tender points, study the patient's history, and perform a physical exam. If you experience pain in 11 of the tender points and have widespread, debilitating pain throughout your body, you might have fibromyalgia.
Even though FM is hard to diagnose, there are prescribed fibromyalgia treatments. Unfortunately there is no cure, but as I mentioned earlier, fibromyalgia does not cause sustained damage to joints or muscles so continuous fibromyalgia treatment should alleviate the symptoms. A change in lifestyle is extremely important in improving the symptoms of FM. You should also have an empathetic physician who is informed about FM. Try exercising regularly, using hot and cold therapy, and changing your surroundings or taking medications to improve sleep. You can utilize counseling to reduce stress or try some relaxation therapies like yoga, acupuncture, or massage to help. Some doctors will recommend dietary or herbal supplements.
The physician may prescribe non-narcotic pain relievers or a low dosage of antidepressants. If depression continues or worsens larger doses can be prescribed. More important is a regular program of gentle exercise and stretching, which helps maintain muscle tone and reduces pain and stiffness.
You may find alternative therapies that can be helpful in relieving your symptoms. Remember that there is limited information about the effectiveness of these fibromyalgia treatments. If you do have FM and are thinking about trying an alternative therapy, get the facts before you begin.
Living with a chronic illness is an emotional challenge. The FM patient needs to develop a program that provides emotional support and open communication with friends and family. Counseling sessions with a professional may improve understanding about the illness and help build healthier relationships within the patient's family.