What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (pronounced: fi-bro-my-al-gee-uh) is a disorder that causes pain in your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons. Unlike pain cause by injuries or illness, fibromyalgia can cause pain for little or no reason. Fibromyalgia is thought to result from an imbalance between cells that carry pain signals and cells that slow pain signals down. This imbalance significantly increases the impact of any physical pain you may experience. Other times, it can cause pain when none should exist at all.
Fibromyalgia pain is especially intense when pressure is applied to areas called “tender points.” Common tender points are the back of the head, the elbows, the shoulders, the knees, the hip joints and around the neck.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a fairly common condition, affecting around 2% of the population of the United States. However, experts are unsure why people get fibromyalgia. Some common causes are thought to be:
- Genetics – Fibromyalgia tends to run in the family, so if one of your relatives has it, there is an increased chance you may get it too
- Gender – Women are much more likely to get fibromyalgia than men
- Lethargy – Fibromyaliga is more common in people who do not move and exercise regularly
- Illness – Illnesses, particularly others associated with pain like arthritis and headaches, can increase the likelihood of developing fibromyalgia
- Emotional and mental conditions – People who suffer from conditions like PTSD, anxiety, and depression are more likely to develop fibromyaliga than those who do not
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Increased sensitivity to pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia.
You may have some degree of constant pain, but the pain may get worse in response to activity, stress, weather changes and other factors. The pain may be a deep ache or a burning sensation. You may have muscle tightening or spasms. Many people have migratory pain (pain that moves around the body).
Most people with fibromyalgia feel tired or fatigued. This fatigue may be mild or very severe. You may also have trouble sleeping, which may add to the fatigue.
Depression or anxiety may also occur as a result of your constant pain and fatigue, or the frustrations you feel with the condition.
The good news is that fibromyalgia does not cause any permanent damage to the muscles and organs. It is not a life-threatening disease, but it is chronic (ongoing).
Although there is no cure, there are many things you can do to feel better.
What can I do to relieve my symptoms?
Find an exercise that gets all your body parts moving and do it consistently. Yoga classes, warm water therapy, swimming and low-impact aerobic exercise are among the best things you can do. Many people find that establishing a consistent routine of eating, sleeping and exercising helps to ease symptoms.
You may need to begin at a very low level of exercise (five minutes every day is helpful at first). Continue to increase the length and frequency of exercise until you are exercising for at least 30 to 60 minutes, three to four times a week. Once you reach this point, you can consider switching to higher-impact exercises, like walking, jogging and tennis. A physical therapist experienced in treating fibromyalgia can help you develop an exercise regime to follow at home.
Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia are made worse by stress and poor sleep, it is important to cut stress out of your life whenever possible and to get as much sleep as you need. Also, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed to get a good night’s rest.
Is there any medicine I can take to help my symptoms?
Several medicines can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many of these medicines are taken before bedtime to help reduce pain and improve sleep.
Your doctor may recommend treating your symptoms with acetaminophen (like Tylenol) first, with additional medications being prescribed as needed. Anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or aspirin are not usually effective in treating fibromyalgia when taken alone.
They say laughter is the best medicine and that certainly applies in this case. A positive attitude can go a long way in helping you feel better. Be sure to smile, laugh and appreciate the good things in life.
Eating tips for chronic pain patients
Research shows that what we eat can also have an effect on the body’s pain levels – especially in fibromyalgia patients.
Many experts blame fibromyalgia pain on oversensitive nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and certain foods may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters that heighten this pain. Experts have compiled a list of healthy and helpful eating tips for patients with back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, and other types of chronic pain.
- Eat whole fruits and vegetables, legumes and omega-3 fatty acids. These foods are rich in vitamins and can help control weight, which is essential to controlling chronic pain. Fresh whole foods also contain antioxidants, which may provide additional pain relief.
- Eat less refined, processed “junk food.” Heavily refined, sugary and chemically processed foods are known to irritate muscles, disrupt sleep and interfere with immune function – three things that can enhance chronic pain. Aspartame, a chemical sweetener used in diet soft drinks, has also been found to heighten pain sensitivity in some fibromyalgia patients.
- Avoid nightshade vegetables. While vegetables are a nutritious and important part of a pain patient’s diet, vegetables in the nightshade family – such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants – can increase joint pain and arthritis symptoms in some individuals due to neurotoxins in the plants. While many will experience no difference, some sensitive patients will improve remarkably by avoiding these vegetables.
Fibromyalgia can be difficult to deal with. But with some discipline and smart decision-making, there are a variety of ways to reduce its effects and continue to have a happy and fulfilling life.
Twin Cities Pain Clinic specializes in treating pain conditions, including fibromyalgia. Get in touch with us if you or someone you know is suffering and would like to know more about treatment options.