What is Fibromyalgia (FM)?
According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, FM is one of the most common chronic pain conditions, affecting over 10 million people in the U.S. For some people, this diagnosis can be severely debilitating and can disrupt the person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome defined by chronic widespread pain and
tenderness and is often associated with other conditions such as chronic fatigue, hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, and irritable bowel syndrome. Because fibromyalgia is a syndrome rather than a disease, there tends to be a collection of signs and symptoms present. Other than diffuse pain and tenderness, some people experience an array of vague symptoms including fatigue/sleep disturbances, headaches/migraines, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory
loss, fluctuations in weight, and heat/cold intolerance (Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, 191).
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
At this time, the cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, though there is strong evidence that genetics might play a role as well as other environmental factors such as infection, physical trauma and emotional stress.
Researchers have studied the way the nervous system processes sensory and pain, which appears to be disrupted in patients with fibromyalgia. Studies have shown a link between fibromyalgia and a high concentration of a chemical known as substance P, which is released during sensory nerve stimulation. This suggests that those suffering from this condition have overactive sensory nerves. (Primer, 189)
There are currently no specific laboratory tests for fibromyalgia. Your doctor must determine your diagnosis by a thorough physical examination and a complete medical history. Most importantly, the presence of other diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis should also be ruled out.
To receive a diagnosis of FM, the patient must meet the following diagnostic criteria:
-Widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum duration of three months
-Tenderness or pain in at least 11 of the 18 specified tender points when pressure is applied (Fig. 1)
Because the cause of fibromyalgia is still vastly unknown, there are no medical treatments out there that are 100% effective. Since 2007, there are three prescription drugs that are approved for treating the chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia; Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella. Fortunately for those patients who are resistant to drug intervention, there are several ways to conservatively manage fibromyalgia syndrome that have proven to be just as effective as conventional medical treatment.
Conservative chiropractic manipulation and myofascial release techniques are hands-on therapies that show supporting and efficient data to help with the treatment of FM (Primer, 193). Chiropractic treatment helps patients by decreasing chronic muscle spasm and stress and restoring joint range of motion, often the source of widespread pain. Once pain is decreased, other symptoms such as sleep deprivation, depression and fatigue may diminish.
Many fibromyalgia patients tend to have a condition known as upper cervical spinal stenosis, which causes the outer linings of the spinal cord, called meninges, to become compressed. This may result in severe pain felt all over the body. By adjusting the head and neck and correcting any misalignments of the cervical spine, the patient may be relieved of this pain. Chiropractic manipulation addresses the nervous system problems seen in fibromyalgia patients by decreasing nerve interference and restoring nerve function within the body. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as an anti-inflammatory diet, herbal supplementation and exercise recommendations can be given to those patients by the doctor of chiropractic.
Other common conservative treatments for FM include sleep management, acupuncture, physical therapy, stress-management, yoga, and therapeutic massage.
If you or someone you know is suffering from Fibromyalgia, be sure to consider other conservative methods of treatment. Many times a combination of alternative therapy and conventional medicine is necessary to improve your quality life so be open with your doctor when discussing your options.
National Fibromyalgia Association. http://fmaware.org
Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. Edition 12. Copyright 2001 by the Arthritis Foundation, Atlanta, Georgia.