Fibromyalgia – finding a light through the Fibro-fog
I see patients in various levels of pain. Pain is not pleasant but it is the body’s warning system and a highly effective tool for locating and diagnosing the problem to lead to the best treatment and management.
However, in Fibromyalgia the neurological system is affected, amplifying the pain response and resulting in widespread pain that, though very real, is at a level that doesn’t seem to correspond to the physical stimulus or damage.
This can be distressing to patients who may get told ‘nothing abnormal has been detected’ and as the symptoms are similar to many other conditions a correct diagnosis can take years, impacting quality of life in the process.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain and tenderness. Other symptoms include: fatigue; poor sleep quality (waking up unrefreshed); difficulties with concentration, learning and memory (‘fibro-fog’); stiffness; sensitivity (to temperature, light, noise).
According to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) patients may also suffer from: depression or anxiety; migraine or tension headaches; digestive problems like IBS or reflux; irritable or overactive bladder; pelvic pain; TMJ disorder.
The NHS also lists possible: tingling and numbness in hands and feet; painful periods; dizziness and clumsiness, restless legs.
Diagnosis is done by your GP or a specialist by evaluating your type and duration of symptoms and possibly using tests rule out other conditions.
Treatment and management
- Physical exercise – regular aerobic exercise is widely recognized as the most effective treatment. Other movement-based exercise like tai chi or yoga are also hugely beneficial. Hydrotherapy is another popular tool due to the heat of the water and low impact on the joints.
Unfortunately, at first or if over done this can also trigger symptoms, but the pain itself will not cause damage and slowly built up, it will improve circulation and mood and decrease pain.
- Osteopathy and physical therapies – gentle stroking massage that encourages lymphatic drainage can help. Also treating any dysfunctions in the Thoracic spine helps reduce the strain on the sympathetic nervous system and improves lymphatic drainage.
- Medication – pain relief, anti- depressants or medications that work on blocking overactive nerves can be a useful tool but only in addition to (not instead of) exercise and lifestyle changes. It is essential to work closely with your doctor on these.
- Diet advice – it has been postulated that some food types and alcohol may make fibromyalgia symptoms worse so it could be beneficial to avoid certain food groups. However, it is best to seek specialist advice from a qualified professional before making dietary changes.
Depending on your worst symptoms you may also find sleep therapy or chronic pain management classes beneficial.
So whether you are looking for treatment to support your Fibromyalgia diagnosis or just starting your journey to investigate your pain, we are here to help.
For information booklets, helplines and online support you can contact Fibromyalgia Action UK.
Katie Clayton, Osteopath