Fibromyalgia is a condition that leads to chronic pain, weakness, and tenderness in the muscles, joints, and other parts of the body like the back, arms, legs, neck, shoulders, and hips. The sensations associated with fibromyalgia may come intermittently, and there’s no known cause for the condition. Fibromyalgia is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed by medical experts. It’s the second most common condition affecting the muscles and bones. About four million adults in the United States (2 percent of the population) have fibromyalgia (1). Up to 20 percent of individuals with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and similar chronic conditions have fibromyalgia.
The symptoms and complications resulting from fibromyalgia can interfere with a person’s ability to effectively perform everyday activities and lead to poor quality of life.
Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia
Doctors aren’t sure what causes fibromyalgia. There’s a view that repeated nerve stimulation can affect the brain and spinal cord, triggering the release of pain signaling chemicals. Certain circumstances make some people more susceptible to the condition. The major risk factors for fibromyalgia include:
Fibromyalgia runs in certain families, and genetic patterns may increase one’s risk of developing the condition.
Some cases of fibromyalgia begin after an event that causes significant physical or emotional distress, like an accident or loss. Stress from work or other activities can also cause fibromyalgia.
Certain viral or bacterial illnesses can cause or worsen fibromyalgia. Changes in weather or temperature may also aggravate symptoms.
Women have a higher risk of developing fibromyalgia than men, probably due to certain hormonal fluctuations.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
There’s no single test to diagnose fibromyalgia. Doctors will examine a person’s physical condition to make a diagnosis. They may perform blood tests to rule out conditions like thyroid disease or anemia.
Fibromyalgia increases sensitivity to even mild pain. The doctor may also carry out a tender point exam – assessing the number of points on the body that are sensitive to touch. A definite fibromyalgia diagnosis is reached when the patient complains of widespread pain with other symptoms for at least three months. The main fibromyalgia symptoms include:
Fibromyalgia makes the body ache all over, often described as a persistent, dull, throbbing pain usually on both sides of the body. Patients may also experience joint pain (arthralgia) alongside twitching or tightness in their muscles.
Fibro fog is a cognitive symptom that diminishes the individual’s ability to concentrate or focus.
Persistent weakness even after sleeping for long periods. Sleep may frequently be interrupted by aches and pains.
Fibromyalgia may also impact a person’s ability to fall asleep. The patient may have trouble sleeping, have restless legs, and not feel refreshed after waking up.
Depression and Anxiety
Some patients report depression and anxiety resulting from fibromyalgia pain.
Other symptoms may include:
- Dry mouth
- Legs pain
- Tingling or numbness in the face, arms, hand, legs, and feet
- Abdominal disturbances including constipation, bloating, and diarrhea
Treatment of Fibromyalgia
There’s no known cure for fibromyalgia, but there are simple but effective ways that help patients manage their symptoms and enhance their quality of life.
It might be difficult for a patient with fibromyalgia symptoms to start exercising or develop an exercise routine. However, starting with as little as possible and increasing workouts gradually can build muscle strength and release endorphins which significantly help reduce symptoms.
A physical therapist can help patients develop suitable exercise regimens for treating fibromyalgia. Research shows that exercise can reverse a type of brain activity observed in people with fibromyalgia.
Getting Quality Sleep
Fatigue is a primary fibromyalgia manifestation, and getting refreshing sleep is key to dealing with this symptom. Studies link poor sleep quality to the pain associated with fibromyalgia (2). Patients can improve their sleep quality by:
- Having a defined sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time)
- Reducing sleep time light and noise
- Avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime
- Reducing or cutting out daytime naps
- Avoiding caffeine close to bedtime
A nutritious, balanced diet reduces stress and improves mood, which in turn relieves fibromyalgia symptoms. In addition, patients should consider minimizing the use of alcohol, nicotine, and similar substances. Incorporating supplements into one’s diet can also help treat symptoms. Such dietary supplements include magnesium, melatonin, St. John’s wort, creatine, and soy.
Gently manipulating painful joints and muscles can promote relaxation, reduce stress, and relieve pain. This research shows that patients who underwent therapeutic massage for five weeks experienced marked reduction of pain and improved mood. (3)
Stress Reduction Practices
Stress exacerbates fibromyalgia symptoms in many patients, and taking intentional steps to reduce stress can significantly alleviate symptoms. Some effective stress-relieving strategies include:
- Joining support groups
- Talking to a counselor
Acupuncture is a Chinese form of therapy that involves inserting fine needles into specific body pressure points. The practice is thought to alter blood flow and chemical levels, thus providing symptom relief.
Some studies show a connection between acupuncture and the relief of mild fibromyalgia symptoms (4). Experts debate natural treatments such as acupuncture, so patients should consult a doctor before adopting this treatment method.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, can also provide pain relief to patients with fibromyalgia. It comes as creams or ointments prescribed for pain treatment. Capsaicin works by interfering with pain receptors, thereby reducing the sensation of pain.
Flotation therapy (sensory deprivation) involves floating in a dark, soundproof tank filled with salted water heated to skin temperature. The idea behind this therapy is to get the body into a deeply relaxed state, so the brain can rest and repair itself.
Flotation therapy has found use in treating depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Athletes also use this technique as an effective aid to recovery.
Emerging studies show that flotation therapy can provide symptom relief to people with fibromyalgia. Patients in this study reported pain relief, muscle relaxation, and improved mood and sleep quality.
Fibromyalgia is a potentially debilitating condition with no known cure. Patients can find significant symptom relief and improved quality of life with medical treatment, lifestyle changes, and alternative therapy. Some of the treatments are unregulated, so it’s necessary to speak to a doctor before commencing any treatment.
- “Fibromyalgia” – cdc.gov
- “The association between pain and sleep in fibromyalgia“- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- “Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials” – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- “Acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia” – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov