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Fibromyalgia is largely misunderstood in the world of medicine. But your Arlington Heights Chiropractor understands the pain, its symptoms, and how to relieve them. The word fibromyalgia comes from Latin for fibrous tissue (fibro) and Greek for muscle (myo) and pain (algia). Fibromyalgia Syndrome is a chronic disorder that affects 3 - 6 million people in the United States. Symptoms include widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points. For reasons unknown, Fibromyalgia affects women more than men by 90%. It is not clear whether the predominance of women who suffer from Fibromyalgia is due to the socialization of American women or if it's a combination of female reproductive hormones and other genetic predispositions.
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) defines Fibromyalgia as a history of pain occurring in all four quadrants of the body and that lasts more than 3 months. The four quadrants of the body are your right and left sides and above and below your waist. The ACR also describes 18 characteristic body tender points that are related to Fibromyalgia. Doctors diagnose Fibromyalgia when a person has 11 or more tender points. Including pain and fatigue, people who have Fibromyalgia may also experience the following symptoms:
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
painful menstrual periods
numbness or tingling in the extremities
restless legs syndrome
cognitive and memory problems (sometimes referred to as "fibro fog")
People frequently confuse Fibromyalgia with another condition called Myofascial Pain Syndrome or Myofascitis. Both Fibromyalgia and Myofascitis can cause pain in all four quadrants of the body and also tend to have similar tender point locations. However, this is where the similarities stop because these two conditions are really different from one another. Associated with a particular activity, Myofascitis is an inflammatory condition caused by overuse or injury to your muscles. Myofascitis also tends to come on suddenly. In contrast, Fibromyalgia is due to a stress-induced change in metabolism and healing and has a slow, insidious onset, usually beginning in early adulthood. It is imperative that these conditions be correctly diagnosed, as they both require different courses of treatment. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition and lasts a long time, sometimes even a lifetime. However, it does not damage joints, muscles, or internal organs.
The Basics of Fibromyalgia
Recent research identifies Fibromyalgia as a stress-related condition and cousin to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Systemic and Lupus Erythematosis (often referred to as Lupus). All these conditions mostly affect females and also exhibit similar symptoms, including chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and many others. Think of these three conditions as existing on a continuum with an Fibromyalgia on one end, Lupus on the other, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the middle. While an abnormal stress response causes all three conditions, Lupus primarily affects the immune system, causing an autoimmune reaction that attacks healthy tissues. On the other end of the continuum is Fibromyalgia, which is defined primarily by metabolic abnormalities. These metabolic changes stem from a stress-induced decrease in blood flow to the brain’s pituitary gland. This, in turn, causes a number of important hormones such as the growth hormone releasing hormone (somatotropin) and the thyroid stimulating hormone to decrease. These hormonal changes cause abnormal muscle healing, borderline or full-blown hypothyroidism, and memory and cognitive changes.
One major physical abnormality that occurs with Fibromyalgia pertains to the muscle itself, where there is a build-up of a protein called "Ground Substance." Ground Substance is normally found throughout the body in muscle, bone, and connective tissue. The job of Ground Substance is to make tissues stronger and less susceptible to tearing. When a healthy person experiences a muscle injury, the muscle tissue is able to regenerate and completely heal itself over time. The muscles of a person who suffers from Fibromyalgia are not able to completely heal. Instead, an abnormally large amount of Ground Substance builds up within the injured area. The Ground Substance along with the local muscle spasms it creates causes knots in the muscle characteristic of Fibromyalgia.
A series of tests may rule out other disorders and an examination can reveal whether a person has the characteristic tender areas on the back of the neck, shoulders, sternum, lower back, hips, shins, elbows, or knees. Unlike its cousin Lupus, Fibromyalgia presently has no diagnostic laboratory tests to identify it. Unfortunately, this leads some doctors to conclude that a patient's pain is not real or they tell their patients that there is little they can do for them. But employing chiropractic, trigger point therapy and lifestyle changes have shown to be very effective in decreasing the severity and duration of the physical pain and disabilities that Fibromyalgia causes.
It can be very difficult to treat Fibromyalgia. Not all doctors understand this condition or are knowledgeable enough about it to properly treat it. Therefore, it is important to find a doctor who is knowledgeable and who can identify it as well as find remedies to alleviate the symptoms. Fibromyalgia treatment often requires a collaborative approach that employees chiropractic care, trigger point therapy, massage, dietary changes, exercises, and stretching.
Treating Fibromyalgia with Chiropractic
Chiropractic care is critical for those who suffer from Fibromyalgia in order to keep the spine and muscles from losing too much movement, Fibromyalgia causes muscles to tighten and lose some of their natural flexibility, which results in a complete loss of spinal movement that causes a neurological reflex that causes the muscles tighten further. As this cycle continues over time. it will cause increased pain and muscle tightness as well as a loss of movement, increased difficulty sleeping, and the development of more trigger points.
The only option for Fibromyalgia patients to keep their spine moving is through regular chiropractic adjustments. It is not unusual for Fibromyalgia patients to have three to four adjustments each month to keep their muscles mobile and relaxed. Doctors must remain aware that when treating Fibromyalgia patients their muscles have a diminished healing ability. Because of this, chiropractic adjustments are usually slightly modified to be gentler than the typical adjustment. This helps reduce stress on the spine's small, supporting muscles, which can easily be injured. It is important when seeking chiropractic care that you make certain your doctor is familiar with the muscular changes that occur with Fibromyalgia. Knowing this, doctors can adjust their treatment accordingly.
Treating Fibromyalgia with Trigger Point Therapy
The most notable characteristic of Fibromyalgia is its long-standing, body-wide pain, defined tender points, and frequent, trigger points. Trigger points are often confused with tender points; however, they are not the same. Firm pressure will cause pain from a trigger point, but tender points are painful with even the slightest pressure. Trigger points refer pain to other areas of the body, while tender points do not. Unlike tender points, trigger points can occur in isolated areas and represent a source of radiating pain, even without applying direct pressure. Trigger points are composed of spastic muscle fibers, while tender points are knots filled with ground substance. Sufferers of Fibromyalgia nearly always experience a combination of trigger points and tender points, the pain of which can be improved greatly with light trigger point therapy.
Trigger point therapy for Fibromyalgia is a lot like trigger point therapy for low back pain, neck pain, and headaches. The points are the same; the difference is in the intensity. Doctors must remember to use less pressure on trigger points of Fibromyalgia patients because their muscles are easily injured and require a longer time to heal.
Treating Fibromyalgia with Cold Laser Therapy
Two major characteristics of Fibromyalgia are chronic pain and poor healing of muscle tissue. Because of this, laser therapy is an important part of the Fibromyalgia patient's treatment plan. Cold laser therapy benefits the patient by stimulating tissue healing and lessening pain.
In 1997, the Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine and Surgery reported in a study of 846 people that two-thirds of patients experienced decreased pain and increased mobility when treated with cold laser therapy. Another study published in Rheumatology International in 2002 showed that patients receiving laser therapy for Fibromyalgia had a significant improvement in pain, fatigue, and morning stiffness.
Self-Care for Fibromyalgia
Day-to-day lifestyle choices greatly affect the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. People who take care of themselves benefit far greater than those who do not. Fibromyalgia patients who choose a healthy lifestyle suffer much less pain, remain more active, and enjoy a higher quality of life. If you are a sufferer of Fibromyalgia, try to help your body by incorporating the following changes into your daily life:
Getting enough good sleep
Getting enough sleep and the right kind can help lessen Fibromyalgia pain and fatigue. But a good night’s sleep isn't always easy to get. Many people who suffer from Fibromyalgia experience pain, restless legs syndrome, and brain-wave irregularities that often interfere with restful sleep. Fibromyalgia patients often experience insomnia. And while alcohol may help you relax, it is recommended that you don't drink it before you go to sleep because it can interfere with restful sleep. Some remedies for insomnia include 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP), which has shown to be helpful with Fibromyalgia patients as well as the prescription anti-depressant Amitriptyline. Our office doesn't usually endorse the use of prescription drugs, but in cases of Fibromyalgia where sleep is necessary for healing, a prescription drug like Amitriptyline can be very beneficial.
Our office also recommends you improve your fitness through exercise. Studies show that participating in aerobic exercise can relieve symptoms of Fibromyalgia. While pain and fatigue may make exercise and other daily activities more difficult, it's crucial that patients remain as physically active as possible. The best way to begin a fitness program is by starting low impact exercises, like walking and swimming. Beginning slowly helps you to stretch and mobilize tight, sore muscles. But it’s important to stay aware of your body and recognize your limits. If you feel increased discomfort, you should lessen your activity or avoid high-impact aerobics and weight lifting. But remember, the more you can exercise, the better off you’ll be.
Making changes at work
Most Fibromyalgia patients are able to continue working, but they may have to make certain changes to do so. You may need to reduce the number of hours you work a week, find a job that allows for a flexible schedule, or switch to a job that is less physically demanding. In order to continue working, many people with Fibromyalgia require specially designed office chairs, adjustable desks, or other such modifications. If you have an uncomfortable desk chair that leaves you with an aching back or you experience increased difficulty when lifting heavy boxes or files, ask your employer to make changes that enable you to keep your job.
Make sure you incorporate a healthy diet into your day. Just like anything else in life, food can either stress your body or help your body. The following is a list of stressful foods: dairy, eggs, wheat, corn, anything with monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, and nitrites (found in processed foods). Another food you may not think would be stressful, but is one you should consider staying away from is fish Fish sometimes includes environmental toxins that also contribute to the body’s overall physical stress level. It is of the utmost importance that you eat as much clean, organically grown, fresh foods as possible. Base your diet around whole foods such as brown rice, legumes, oats, spelt, rice milk, soy, hormone-free chicken or turkey, roots, nuts and berries.
There are dozens of nutritional products on the market that claim to be “the answer” for Fibromyalgia. However, none of them have yet proven to be much in terms of a long-term benefit for anyone. Yet, some people use magnesium malate with good results, and some people use ginkgo biloba with good results, while others find success in alleviating symptoms by using various herbals. So what is the bottom line with nutritional supplements? Well, truthfully, no one thing works for everyone. But if you come across something that you would like to try, by all means do so, just make sure4 you check with your chiropractor first to ensure that it won't interfere with your treatment. Contact O'Hara Family Chiropractic in Arlington Heights today!