El Paso, TX. Chiropractor, Dr. Alex Jimenez has treated numerous types of injuries and conditions. Dr. Jimenez knows the basics of fibromyalgia and understands the best options one should take to achieve overall relief from their pain, fatigue and discomfort.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. This pain is accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe it amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way the brain processes pain signals.
Symptoms can begin after infection, physical trauma, surgery, or psychological stress. With other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no one triggering event.
There is still no cure for fibromyalgia, but a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction can also help.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Cognitive difficulties: A symptom commonly referred to as “fibro-fog” impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate.
- Fatigue: People with fibromyalgia often wake up tired, even though they slept for a long period. Sleep is often disrupted by pain, and many with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, i.e. restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
- Widespread pain: Pain associated with fibromyalgia is often described as, a constant dull ache that keeps going for three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
Fibromyalgia often co-exists with other painful conditions:
A person may have two or more coexisting chronic pain conditions:
- Irritable Bladder
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Migraine Headaches
- Morning Stiffness
- Painful Menstrual Periods
- Raynaud’s Syndrome
- Tingling/Numbness In Hands & Feet
- TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disease)
It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.
Doctors do not know what causes fibromyalgia, but more than likely involves a variety of factors that work together. These may be:
- Genetics Fibromyalgia tends to run in families, there may be certain genetic mutations that make an individual more susceptible to developing the disorder.
- Infections Some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
- Physical or Emotional Trauma Fibromyalgia can sometimes be triggered by a physical trauma, such as a car accident
- Psychological Stress can also trigger the condition
Scientists estimate that it affects 5 million Americans 18 or older. Between 80 and 90 percent of those diagnosed are women. However, men and children can also have the disorder. Most are diagnosed during middle age.
Risk factors include:
- An individual’s sex: Fibromyalgia is diagnosed more in women than men
- Ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis)
- Family History: More likely to develop fibromyalgia if a relative has the condition
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (commonly called lupus)
The pain and lack of sleep associated with fibromyalgia can interfere with an individual’s ability to function at home or on the job. The frustration of dealing with this misunderstood condition can result in depression and anxiety.
Scientists believe that repeated nerve stimulation is what causes the brain to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of chemicals that signal pain (neurotransmitters). Therefore, the brain’s pain receptors develop memory of the pain and become more sensitive, which is why they overreact to pain signals.
A fibromyalgia diagnosis can be made if a person has had widespread pain for more than three months. This is with no underlying medical condition which, could cause the pain.
Unfortunately, there is no lab test to confirm a diagnosis, a doctor may want to rule out any other conditions that may have similar symptoms. Blood tests may include:
- Complete blood count
- Cyclic citrullinated peptide test
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- Rheumatoid factor
- Thyroid function tests
Treatment include both medication and self-care. The emphasis is on minimizing symptoms and improving general health. No one treatment works for all symptoms. The type of treatment needed will depend on the symptoms. For example, a physician may prescribe an antidepressant to reduce pain and to also address depression. If worried or have trouble sleeping, an exercise program could help.
Medications can help reduce pain and improve sleep. Common medications include:
- Antidepressants: Duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella) can help ease the pain and fatigue. A doctor may prescribe amitriptyline or the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine to help promote sleep.
- Anti-seizure drugs: Medications designed to treat epilepsy can be useful in reducing certain types of pain. Gabapentin (Neurontin) is sometimes helpful in reducing symptoms, while pregabalin (Lyrica) was the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the condition.
- Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers i.e. acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help. A doctor might suggest a prescription pain reliever such as tramadol (Ultram). Narcotics are not advised, because they can lead to dependence and may even make the pain get worse.
A variety of different therapies can help reduce the effect that fibromyalgia has on the body. Examples:
- Counseling: Speaking with a counselor can help strengthen belief in abilities and teach strategies for dealing with stressful situations.
- Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapist can help make adjustments in the work area or in performing tasks that cause less stress on the body.
- Physical Therapy: A chiropractor or physical therapist can teach exercises that will improve strength, flexibility and stamina. Water-based exercises can also help.
Lifestyle & Home Therapy
Self-care is critical.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise may increase the pain at first. But gradual and regular exercise often decreases symptoms. Exercises that are appropriate are walking, swimming, biking and water aerobics. A physical therapist can help develop a home exercise program. Stretching, proper posture and relaxation exercises can also help.
- Get Plenty Of Sleep: Fatigue is one of the main symptoms, so getting sufficient sleep is essential. Also, practice good sleep habits, i.e. going to bed and getting up at the same time each day and limit daytime naps.
- Maintain Healthy Lifestyle: Eat healthy food, limit caffeine intake. Do something enjoyable and fulfilling each day.
- Make Work Changes If Necessary
- Pace Yourself: Keep activities on an even level. Doing too much on good days can cause more bad days. Moderation and not self-limiting or doing too little on bad days.
- Reduce Stress: Make a plan to avoid overexertion and emotional stress. Allow time each day to relax. This means learning how to say no without guilt. Don’t change the routine completely. People who quit work or quit all activity do worse than those who remain active. Try stress management techniques, i.e deep-breathing exercises and/or meditation.
- Take Medication as prescribed
Complementary and alternative therapies for pain and stress management aren’t new. Some, such as meditation and yoga, have been practiced for thousands of years. But their use has become more popular in recent years, especially with people who have chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgia.
Several of these treatments do appear to safely relieve stress and reduce pain, and some are gaining acceptance in mainstream medicine. But many practices remain unproved because they haven’t been adequately studied.
- Acupuncture: Is a Chinese medical therapy that is based on restoring normal balance of life forces by inserting thin needles through the skin to various depths. The needles cause changes in blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord.
- Massage Therapy: Use of different manipulative techniques to move the body’s muscles and soft tissues. Massage can reduce heart rate, relax muscles, improve range of motion in joints and increase production of the body’s natural painkillers. Also helps relieve stress and anxiety.
- Yoga & Tai Chi: Meditation, slow movements, deep breathing and relaxation. Both can help in controlling symptoms.