What is fibromyalgia?
It is estimated that 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from Fibromyalgia, and it is still a relatively misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition. Much like other myalgic problems such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS), there is still some debate in Western medical circles as to whether it’s actually exists as a condition; or if it does whether it is solely a more severe form of CFS, or PVFS.
As well as a general feeling of pain, people with fibromyalgia also suffer from:
- increased sensitivity to pain
- muscle stiffness
- difficulty sleeping
- problems with memory and concentration
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Some sufferers also report:
- dizziness and clumsiness
- an inability to regulate body temperature
- restless legs syndrome
- pins and needles in hands and feet
- painful periods in females
- disturbed sleep (fibromyalgia can cause sufferers to wake up tired even after plenty of sleep. This is because the condition can prevent the restorative level of sleep. non-restorative sleep.
- Cognitive problems such as slow or confused speech, concentration and attention issues and trouble learning new things.
What causes fibromyalgia?
The main reason is thought to be a chemical imbalance in the CNS (Central Nervous System) which changes the way that pain is processed.
Research has shown that people with fibromyalgia have abnormally low levels of certain hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine in their brains. These hormones regulate mood, appetite, sleep, behaviour and your response to stressful situations. These hormones also process pain messages sent by the nerves. We do not know why certain hormone levels can be lower, or higher in sufferers, partly because it's very difficult to accurately measure the levels.
Disturbed sleep patterns may also be a cause of fibromyalgia as opposed to a symptom.
Genetics could also play a part, there is inconclusive research, however, there is evidence that suggests some sufferers have a genetic predisposition after a certain event or 'trigger'. These 'triggers' include:
- an injury
- a viral infection
- giving birth
- having an operation
- the breakdown of a relationship
- being in an abusive relationship
- the death of a loved one
There are also other conditions that can be associated with fibromyalgia, these include:
- conditions affecting the joints, muscles and bones e.g. Osteoarthritis
- rheumatoid arthritis
- ankylosing spondylitis
- temporomandibular disorder (TMD) – a condition that can cause pain in the jaw, cheeks, ears and temples
How to treat Fibromyalgia
There is no cure for fibromyalgia and it is not a progressive disease, more a chronic condition. In essence Fibromyalgia occurs when the brain and nerves are hypersensitive and over-react to pain and other sensations, so various approaches can provide benefits for the sufferer.
Medication can be prescribed by doctors, however, there are a number of therapies available to help sufferers manage the symptoms and improve quality of life; such as exercise, massage and cognitive therapies. These alongside lifestyle and diet changes can reduce the impact of the condition.
The relaxing effects of any form of massage can help with the physiological response to the problems associated with fibromyalgia and it can address muscle stiffness very effectively. Fibromyalgia is a good example of a condition that should be addressed by creating a balance between body and mind. Muscle stiffness may, in some people, be a result of depression, anxiety and fatigue. Restoring these muscles to normal length will have very little effect in the long term, if the psychological issues that accompany the disorder are not addressed. Yoga classes offer a chance to stretch and relieve tense muscles whilst simultaneously calming and balancing the mind. A yoga class will increase muscle strength whilst teaching different relaxation techniques. Exercise also boosts your supply of serotonin which is known to be lower in Fibromyalgia sufferers. A combination of massage and yoga can also combat fatigue which leads to the inability to concentrate known as ‘fibro fog’.
A study in the Journal of Rehabilitative Medicine found that people with Fibromyalgia who received acupuncture benefited from pain relief for at least two years compared to those who did not receive the treatment.