Fibromyalgia: Pain that can’t be explained
Fibromyalgia is not a new disease, but it only recently gained recognition as a painful and debilitating condition. Its symptoms of all-over body pain were first discussed in the 1800s and fibromyalgia was known as muscular rheumatism. At that time no cause, relief or cure from symptoms could be found; some doctors even believed it was a disease of the mind and the pain was manifested by thoughts and experiences. It was not until 1904 that the medical profession realised it was not a rheumatic disease; they renamed it fibrositis— believing the pain was caused by inflammation. In 1976 the name changed again to fibromyalgia, when it was discovered that inflammation was not the cause of pain. Researchers now believe that the way the brain perceives pain is altered and these signals are amplified in the presence of fibromyalgia.
The name, broken down: Fibra (Latin), meaning fibrous tissues, i.e. tendons and ligaments; myos (Greek), meaning muscle, and algos (Greek), meaning pain. It does not discriminate; both Morgan Freeman and Lady Gaga suffer from this painful condition. Lady Gaga is speaking out on Twitter to help raise awareness and connect with people who have it too.
Although fibromyalgia is still under the umbrella of rheumatoid diseases, this new understanding of what it is (and is not) has helped many with this condition finally find some relief. As yet there is still no cure but increased knowledge has brought better treatments for pain relief and other symptoms. So, what exactly is fibromyalgia? Fibromyalgia, which affects more women than men, describes pain and tenderness throughout the body alongside other symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, poor memory and sometimes insomnia. The cause is unknown; symptoms may appear for no reason, gradually increasing over time or sometimes linked to trauma, surgery, infection or high levels of stress.
The most common symptoms are: widespread pain, fatigue, poor memory (known as brain fog) and insomnia. The less common symptoms are: temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), frequent headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and cystitis and painful bladder.
Although more is known about fibromyalgia, diagnosing it can still be difficult. There are no definitive blood tests, laboratory tests or significant signs. Diagnosis is based on having symptoms for three months or more and ruling out any other pathologies or causes. Blood tests do not confirm but rather dismiss other conditions with similar symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems or infection. Treatment for fibromyalgia can vary greatly between individuals and this has made it difficult to find the perfect solution. Most often a combination of interventions are suggested to manage symptoms:
• Self-care and lifestyle changes – An important piece of advice that is often suggested is to reduce stress. Just thinking about reducing stress is enough to increase stress levels. It seems that these days stress is unavoidable, whether at work, at home or juggling both work and home; even sitting in slow-moving traffic can be stressful. Managing stress is far better than ignoring it or letting it control us. There are so many ways to do this from writing lists and prioritising to learning the art of meditation.
Go for a walk, get some fresh air and take in the surroundings to unwind after a long day; get plenty of sleep and slow down. Feeling good today does not mean having to fit everything into one day!
• Medication – Now that more is known about this condition, medication is more effective. It may take time to find the right combination but doctors have a clearer idea of medications that are effective in treating pain, insomnia and mood. Remember, never take high doses of medication without professional guidance; even over-the-counter medication can have side effects if not taken correctly.
• Therapy – Seeing a physiotherapist can help to manage and understand pain through a range of interventions. Physiotherapists can offer a full assessment to identify areas of weakness and pain, and offer advice on pain management and exercise. Exercise can help relieve symptoms. Remember, exercising in moderation releases endorphins, the body’s very own happy hormones, as well as improving circulation, strengthening muscles and boosting metabolism. All of these can help relieve symptoms. Occupational Therapists can advise on managing daily tasks and give advice on modifications at home and at work. Counselling is also helpful in recognising stress and identifying strengths and weaknesses. It is sometimes helpful to seek advice on setting sensible goals and suggesting coping strategies.
Kim Jackson is a UK-trained physiotherapist with over 20 years’ experience. She specialises in musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction including back pain and sciatica, stroke and other neuro conditions plus sports physiotherapy, having worked with local, regional and international athletes and teams treating injuries and analysing biomechanics to improve function and performance. She is registered with the Allied Health Council and is a member of PASL. She currently works at Bayside Therapy Services in Rodney Bay, O: 458 4409 or C: 284 5443; www.baysidetherapyservices.com