If you know anything about fibromyalgia, you know that…there’s actually a lot that’s still unknown.
A chronic condition, fibromyalgia is considered an ‘invisible’ illness. In fact, according to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association, it takes an estimated 5 years on average for a patient with fibromyalgia to get a proper diagnosis.
Though fibromyalgia can’t be seen, the pain it causes can absolutely be felt.
Keep reading for some of the most common signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia, and how chiropractic care can help.
Common signs & symptoms of fibromyalgia
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain and tenderness in muscles and joints throughout the body. These areas of pain might be referred to as “trigger points,” “tender points,” or “regions of pain.”
Common regions of pain include…
- back of the head
- tops of the shoulders
- upper chest
- outer elbows
The pain can range from a mild ache to intense and almost unbearable discomfort. Its severity could dictate how well you cope day-to-day. The pain feels as though it’s starting in the muscles, but there are no signs of damage to the tissues. People with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive than usual to stimuli that cause pain or to the feeling of pain.
When you’re in pain, it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Plus, people with fibromyalgia are more likely to have conditions that interrupt sleep, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Even when you can sleep, you get less of the deep, REM sleep that helps your body restore itself. Long nights spent lying awake or tossing and turning can lead to morning fatigue, which explains why persistent fatigue occurs in more than 90% of people with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia pain isn’t the only part of this disease that can steal sleep. Many people with fibromyalgia complain of a creeping, crawling feeling in their legs at night. The feeling is so uncomfortable that it makes you want to move, which wakes you out of a deep slumber. The resulting lack of sleep can have a real impact on your ability to function the next day.
According to The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, between 50%-70% of people with fibromyalgia get headaches. Migraines are the most common type of headache in people with fibromyalgia. These can lead to a throbbing head, stomach aches, and sensitivity to light.
Some people with fibromyalgia also have a condition called temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) which causes pain in the jaw area. If you have this condition, you’ll notice that your jaw makes snapping or popping noises when you open and close your mouth. You may also have trouble opening your mouth all the way to chew or speak. Sometimes TMJ also causes headaches and pain around the ears.
Brain fog, or “fibro fog”
Confusion, trouble concentrating, and difficulty remembering are all signs of “fibro fog,” which was named for the foggy feeling people with fibromyalgia sometimes have. What causes fibro fog isn’t clear, but it may have to do with the effects of pain on the brain or a lack of oxygen to the brain’s tissues.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is more common in people with fibromyalgia than those without. IBS affects the large intestine and can unexpectedly cause:
Causes of fibromyalgia
Available research still doesn’t pinpoint an exact cause for fibromyalgia. However, we do continue to evolve in better understanding this condition and its origin.
It’s thought that fibromyalgia appears to stem from an abnormal nervous system response. Your body overreacts to things that shouldn’t normally be painful. And you may feel the pain in more than one area of your body.
Symptoms often begin after an event, such as physical trauma, surgery, infection, or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.
Fibromyalgia also often runs in families. If you have a family member with this condition, you’re at higher risk for developing it. Researchers think certain gene mutations may play a role. They’ve identified a few possible genes that affect the transmission of chemical pain signals between nerve cells.
Treatment options available
Although there is no “cure” for fibromyalgia, there are some natural ways you can manage the symptoms.
Regular exercise, such as walking, swimming, or biking, is helpful in reducing muscle pain and improving muscle strength and fitness in fibromyalgia. If you are beginning an exercise program for the first time, it’s best to start slowly and gradually increase your level of activity. Over time, exercise typically improves fibromyalgia symptoms. Muscle-strengthening programs also appear to improve pain, decrease the number of tender points, and improve muscle strength.
CBT is based on the concept that people’s perceptions of themselves and of their surroundings affect their emotions and behavior. The goal of CBT is to change the way you think about pain and to deal with illness more positively. CBT has been especially effective when combined with patient education and information, ie, learning about your disease and how to manage it.
Tai chi and yoga
Some people with fibromyalgia benefit from a traditional Chinese exercise called tai chi (which combines mind-body practice with gentle, flowing movement exercises) or yoga.
Spinal adjustments help to realign your body and re-establish the connection between the nervous system and nerves throughout the body. It essentially resets the nervous system so that the brain can process pain more accurately. Since the pain from fibromyalgia is believed to be caused by the central nervous system receiving faulty or inaccurate pain signals, resetting the nervous system can provide immediate relief.
Fibromyalgia typically responds best to an integrated management program, combining medications, exercise, and cognitive approaches. This works best if a team of healthcare professionals is involved.
If you’re struggling with fibromyalgia, we’re here to help! If you’re in the Charlotte area, click here to schedule an appointment at your local Keith Clinic Estramonte Chiropractic office.