Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain
Many illnesses cause pain and fatigue for a few days or weeks, but with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic pain, the symptoms last far longer and are less responsive to treatment. Fibromyalgia is pain and stiffness in 11 to 18 specific tender points of soft tissue throughout the body that last for at least three months.
Initially, fibromyalgia was thought to be a psychological illness, but in 1990 the American College of Rheumatology finally recognized it as a physical disease and announced how to diagnose it. Still, however, some physicians do not believe that fibromyalgia is anything more than a mental issue, and do not diagnose it.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
It is unclear what exactly causes fibromyalgia. While fibromyalgia is often a complication of musculoskeletal disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, there are other theories as well. Some experts believe that it is caused by genetics, as fibromyalgia tends to run in families. Other theories are that it is an abnormal response to pain, or that it is a bodily response to emotional stress, insomnia, or physical trauma.
Chronic pain is generally caused by chronic health conditions such as cancer, arthritis, and back pain. Chronic pain may also be caused by fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Sometimes chronic pain is caused by an acute injury (such as a sprained back or a severe infection), while other times individuals suffer from chronic pain because of emotional or psychological issues like stress or depression.
Types of Fibromyalgia
There are generally considered to be two types of fibromyalgia. The first type is fibromyalgia resulting from multiple injuries over time, which have built up to create chronic pain. Often, these injuries include car accidents or bad falls. This type of fibromyalgia tends to be best treated with bodywork and osteopathic manipulation. Full recovery is often possible, though it may take several years.
The second type of fibromyalgia is a sort of whole body illness, similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. This type of fibromyalgia is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms and usually the individual has no significant injury history.
Prevention of Fibromyalgia
One way for individuals to avoid fibromyalgia and chronic pain is to manage stress. Easy ways for individuals to manage stress include practicing yoga or meditation.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is characterized by tender, swollen, and painful knots located throughout an individual’s body. Along with the tenderness caused by fibromyalgia, persons also tend to suffer from stiffness, fatigue, and fitful or non-restorative sleep. Individuals suffering from fibromyalgia also report having diarrhea, constipation (irritable bowel syndrome), headaches, numbness and tingling, and restless leg syndrome. Fibromyalgia also often causes individuals suffering from injuries to have severely delayed recovery. Finally, persons suffering from fibromyalgia may experience extreme discomfort when their skin is pressed upon, even with the lightest of touches.
How Fibromyalgia is Diagnosed
Doctors may diagnose fibromyalgia or chronic pain by examining the symptoms a patient displays and estimating if the symptoms have been occurring for at least three months. For fibromyalgia, doctors will often examine tender points in the neck, shoulders, and lower back. Often, however, other disorders must be ruled out to correctly diagnose fibromyalgia. To rule these out, blood tests and X-rays must often be taken to check for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Lyme disease, hepatitis, and other diseases.
Fibromyalgia Possible Treatments
Temporary relief may be achieved through medication (usually non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents) for both fibromyalgia and chronic pain. Others may be prescribed muscle relaxants and anti-depressants, though these solutions only tend to work for about a month. More long term solutions include aerobic exercise (usually at a mild level), which may help persons with fibromyalgia improve motor functioning, mood, and pain.
Anti-depressants were originally prescribed for persons with fibromyalgia because doctors thought the condition was solely a mental issue, and that the patients were suffering from depression. As such, the doctors prescribed the anti-depressant amitryptilline. The drug worked, in practice, with patients reporting that their pain symptoms had subsided. However, because of side effects associated with anti-depressants, many patients lowered their dosage to levels that are too low to treat depression. Still, though, these small doses tended to relieve fibromyalgia. Doctors began to have a new theory after this discovery. Because low doses of anti-depressants may aid sleep, doctors began to theorize that fibromyalgia may be a sleep disorder, and the anti-depressants served to help individuals relax fully relax their muscles at night (whereas before, they could not, causing pain, fatigue, and stiffness). Still, though, the actual cause of fibromyalgia is a mystery, as this theory has not been clinically proven to be correct.
Other individuals suffering from fibromyalgia have seen relief after taking cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapy which uses a person’s thoughts and behaviors to resolve emotional conflicts. If successful, it improves motor functions and activity for persons with fibromyalgia.
Supplements may also be taken to help relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia. In a 1992 study, half of the fibromyalgia patients taking 5 HTP (5 hydroxy L tryptophan) reported less tender point pain, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping over ninety days. Another supplement used to treat fibromyalgia is malic acid, though its effectiveness varies wildly from person to person.
One of the most easy and effective ways to treat chronic pain is through a treatment called saturation. Saturation is practiced by drinking eight glasses of water (6-8 ounces each) per day. Medical research shows that dehydration is a major factor in chronic pain, especially for the elderly, whose spinal discs may dry out without sufficient water. Another solution is to drink certain juices, which tend to create an acid/base balance within the body, reducing pain. Too much acid in the body increases the perception of pain. Additionally, plant juices provide antioxidants, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
DL Phenylalanine (DLPA) is a fatty acid which prevents the breaking down of endorphins in the brain. By slowing down the breakdown of endorphins, DLPA causes the body to experience less pain. DLPA has been shown to be effective in alleviating chronic lower back pain. B vitamins, especially B1 and B12, have been shown to relieve chronic pain due to headaches, arthritis, and dental surgery. Vitamin C has been clinically shown to relieve chronic pain in the gums.
Finally, chronic pain may also be treated through chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and even hypnotherapy.
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