What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by
widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points.
"Tender points" refers to tenderness that occurs in precise, localized
areas, particularly in the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. People with
this syndrome may also experience sleep disturbances, morning stiffness,
irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and other symptoms.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Although the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown,
researchers have several theories about causes or triggers of the
disorder. Some scientists believe that the syndrome may be caused by an
injury or trauma. This injury may affect the central nervous system.
Fibromyalgia may be associated with changes in muscle metabolism, such
as decreased blood flow, causing fatigue and decreased strength. Others
believe the syndrome may be triggered by an infectious agent such as a
virus in susceptible people, but no such agent has been identified.
What are the signs and symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
Signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary, depending on weather,
stress, physical activity or even just the time of day. Different people
experience different signs and symptoms, but common signs and symptoms
Widespread pain. Fibromyalgia is characterized by pain in
specific areas of your body when pressure is applied. These areas
include the back of your head, upper back and neck, upper chest, elbows,
hips and knees. The pain generally persists for months at a time and is
often accompanied by stiffness.
Fatigue and sleep disturbances. People with fibromyalgia
often wake up tired and unrefreshed even though they seem to get plenty
of sleep. Some studies suggest that this problem is the result of a
sleep disorder called alpha wave interrupted sleep pattern, a condition
in which deep sleep is frequently interrupted by bursts of brain
activity similar to wakefulness. So people with fibromyalgia miss the
deep restorative stage of sleep (stage 4). Nighttime muscle spasms in
your legs (periodic limb movement disorder or nocturnal myoclonus) and
restless legs syndrome also may be associated with fibromyalgia.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The constipation, diarrhea,
abdominal pain and bloating associated with IBS are common in people
Chronic headaches and facial pain. Many people who have
fibromyalgia also have recurrent tension-type headaches that may be
related to tenderness in the neck and shoulders. Facial pain is common,
and as many as one-third experience jaw pain — temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
Heightened sensitivity. It's common for people with
fibromyalgia to report being sensitive to odours, noises, bright lights,
touch and changes in weather.
Depression. As many as one-third of people with fibromyalgia
also experience depression.
Numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet (paresthesia).
Difficulty concentrating and mood changes.
Chest pain or pelvic pain.
Dry eyes, skin and mouth.
Painful menstrual periods.
Sensation of swollen hands and feet.
How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because many
of the symptoms mimic those of other disorders. The physician
reviews the patient's medical history and makes a diagnosis of
fibromyalgia based on a history of chronic widespread pain that
persists for more than 3 months. Diagnosing
fibromyalgia is difficult because there isn't a single, specific
diagnostic laboratory test. In fact, before receiving a diagnosis of
fibromyalgia, you may go through several medical tests, such as
blood tests and X-rays, only to have the results come back normal.
Although these tests may rule out other conditions, such as
rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis, they can't
How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?
Treatment of fibromyalgia requires a comprehensive
approach. The physician, physical therapist, and patient may all
play an active role in the management of fibromyalgia. Studies have
shown that aerobic exercise, such as swimming and walking, improves
muscle fitness and reduces muscle pain and tenderness. Heat and
massage may also give short-term relief. Antidepressant medications
may help elevate mood, improve quality of sleep, and relax muscles.
Patients with fibromyalgia may benefit from a combination of
exercise, medication, physical therapy, and
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
Some of the more common complementary and alternative treatments
promoted for pain management, and the current thinking about their
effectiveness and safety, include:
Magnet therapy. The application of high strength rare earth magnets
at the point of pain. The magnets should be applied continuously over a
period of at least 3 weeks. Magnets can be applied in the form of
straps, wraps, insoles, jewellery,
pillows, mattress covers.A magnetic mattress cover is
recommended for treating pain associated with fibromyalgia
Chiropractic care:This treatment is
based on the philosophy that restricted movement in the spine may lead
to reduced function and pain. Spinal adjustment (manipulation) is one
form of therapy chiropractors use to treat restricted spinal mobility.
The goal is to restore spinal movement and, as a result, improve
function and decrease pain. Chiropractors manipulate the spine from
different positions using varying degrees of force. Manipulation doesn't
need to be forceful to be effective. Chiropractors may also use massage
and stretching to relax muscles that are shortened or in spasm. Because
manipulation has risks, always use properly trained and licensed
Massage therapy. This is one of the
oldest methods of health care still in practice. It involves use of
different manipulative techniques to move your body's muscles and soft
tissues. The therapy aims to improve circulation in the muscle,
increasing the flow of nutrients and eliminating waste products. Massage
can reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, improve range of motion
in your joints and increase production of your body's natural
painkillers. It often helps relieve stress and anxiety. Although massage
is almost always safe, avoid it if you have open sores, acute
inflammation or circulatory problems.
Osteopathy. Doctors of osteopathy go
through rigorous and lengthy training in academic and clinical settings.
They're licensed to perform many of the same therapies and procedures as
traditional doctors. One area where osteopathy differs from conventional
medicine — but is similar to chiropractic medicine — is in the use of
manipulation to address joint and spinal problems. Again, this is an
area of controversy, but many studies support osteopathic techniques for
many joint and muscle conditions.
Acupressure and acupuncture. Both
acupressure and acupuncture stem from the Chinese belief that 14
invisible pathways, called meridians, lie beneath your skin. In this
belief, when the life force that runs through these meridians is
interrupted, you become ill. Practitioners restore the flow of the
energy by applying pressure with their fingers (acupressure) or by
inserting very fine needles (acupuncture) into the skin. Research on the
benefits of acupressure is inconclusive. But according to the National
Institutes of Health, acupuncture to help control pain associated with
fibromyalgia may be effective.