Fibromyalgia and Chiropractic Care

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition, where widespread pain and tenderness is felt throughout the body – in your joints, your muscles, and your bones. Fibromyalgia is still largely misunderstood in the medical profession, but it is currently thought to be a problem with the way the nervous system processes sensory information.

This causes your body to become more sensitive to sensory input than normal, and can cause normal sensations to feel painful. Fibromyalgia pain is pain that has lasted for more than 3 months, and this pain will often come and go. Fibromyalgia can affect anyone, but is most common in those between the ages of 25 and 55 years old, and is more likely to occur in women than in men. It is thought that up to six percent of New Zealanders will develop this condition. Fibromyalgia often overlaps with other chronic pain conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and complex regional pain syndrome. It can also commonly be associated with inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). While fibromyalgia is extremely painful, there is no indication that there is any ongoing harm being caused to your body from this condition, so no damage is being caused to your muscles, bones, and joints.

What causes fibromyalgia?

It is unknown exactly what causes fibromyalgia to occur, and there is no single cause of fibromyalgia. It is thought to be due to genetic and environmental factors, and it may be just one factor, or a combination of multiple factors that causes fibromyalgia to occur. Some examples of things that may cause fibromyalgia to occur are physical trauma, emotional trauma or a stressful event, an infectious illness or viral infection, or hormonal changes. You are at greater risk of developing fibromyalgia if you have a parent or sibling who has the condition. You are also at a greater risk of developing fibromyalgia if you have a rheumatological condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, but this does not necessarily mean that these conditions cause fibromyalgia to develop.

What are some other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, other than widespread pain?

Tender points – a characteristic symptom of fibromyalgia are specific tender points located at specific points throughout your body. These tender points aren’t necessarily painful normally, but can become extremely painful when pressed on. There are 18 tender points located throughout the body, 9 on each side. These points are: lower neck in the front, edge of upper breast, arm near the elbow, knee, base of the skull at the back of the head, hip bone, upper outer buttock, back of the neck, and back of the shoulders. If 11 or more of these points are tender, this can help with making a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Fatigue and disturbed sleep – one of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia is fatigue. Fatigue can sometimes be a bigger issue than the pain itself if it is severe, as it can get in the way of going about your daily life. Those with fibromyalgia can often have sleep disturbances, however even when the do get a full nights sleep, they often still feel extremely fatigued and like they haven’t slept enough.
Problems with cognition and thinking – those with fibromyalgia can have issues with their cognition. This can include problems with memory, concentration, and decision making.
Depression and anxiety – having any pain condition increases the likelihood of developing depression or anxiety, so those with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop depression or anxiety than those without a pain condition.
Other symptoms – other symptoms that those with fibromyalgia can experience are headaches/migraines, abdominal pain, muscle tension, allergies, dry eyes, tender lymph nodes, irritable bowel syndrome, or irritable bladder syndrome.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia is diagnosed based on your symptoms and on a physical examination. It is also diagnosed by excluding any other possible causes for your pain. Things such as blood tests and an x-ray will be performed to exclude other possible causes. There is no test or scan that can pick up fibromyalgia, they are just performed to exclude other disorders that could be causing your pain.

How can chiropractic help with fibromyalgia?

Chiropractors find areas of joint misalignments throughout the spine, and these joint misalignments can cause interference with the nervous system. As talked about above, fibromyalgia is thought to be a dysfunction in how the nervous system is processing sensory information. If the nervous system is being interfered with by areas of spinal dysfunction, this is going to affect the nervous system’s ability to regulate itself and to function at its best. This may be contributing to the dysfunction of how the nervous system is processing the sensory input it is receiving. Chiropractors are able to find these areas of spinal dysfunction and perform chiropractic adjustments to these areas. This restores proper spinal function and relieves the stress that may have been being placed on the nervous system. This removal of interference allows the nervous system to be able to function more optimally, and can help the nervous system to be able to regulate itself better and start processing sensory input more accurately. When the nervous system is able to process the information more accurately, this can decrease the amount of pain that is felt through the body. Many people with fibromyalgia have found a lot of relief from chiropractic care. Not only does it help with the nervous system, but proper spinal function also helps ensure that the joints and muscles don’t have any excess stress being placed on them. This can help provide relief from symptoms such as muscle tension and headaches. Many people also find that chiropractic care helps with their sleep quality, which can help reduce sleep disturbances and fatigue in those with fibromyalgia. Chiropractic is a safe, effective, and natural way of dealing with pain. Many people with fibromyalgia don’t get relief from medications, so a more natural route may be the way to go to help with pain relief. Chiropractors are taught a range of different techniques, so gentle techniques can be used on those who are in a lot of pain, if bigger manual adjustments are too painful. If you are looking for a natural and effective way to manage the pain of fibromyalgia, why not give chiropractic a go!