Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that impacts over 4 million people across the United States. While it’s not a new condition (it was first described by doctors in the early 1800s), recent developments in scientific research have shed more light on its origins. Once believed to be an inflammatory condition, current understanding points to a malfunctioning nervous system that is hypersensitive to pain signals.
Fibromyalgia sufferers live with a great deal of pain and fatigue on a daily basis. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain and tender points in the muscles and joints of the body, poor quality of sleep, fatigue, cognitive disturbances (sometimes referred to as “fibro-fog”), and other commonly associated conditions such as restless leg syndrome or irritable bowel syndrome.
Fibromyalgia FAQ’s Answered
Perhaps because of the slow evolution of understanding the ins and outs of fibromyalgia, there are a lot of questions people have about this increasingly prevalent health condition.
Q: I’ve heard that fibromyalgia is a “catch-all” diagnosis. Is this true?
A: It may have been in the past that doctors would give a diagnosis of fibromyalgia when no other condition could explain their patient’s symptoms. However, now that more is understood about fibromyalgia, the diagnosis process still may take some time but there are established diagnostic criteria that patients must meet:
- widespread pain that has been present for at least 3 months
- presence of other associated symptoms such as fatigue and cognitive difficulties
- the absence of other underlying health conditions that might be causing symptoms
It is true that there is no one, single diagnostic exam that can diagnose fibromyalgia, but the process has become much clearer over time.
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Q: Is fibromyalgia hereditary?
A: It does appear that there is a genetic component to fibromyalgia. While having a parent affected with the condition may increase the odds of a child developing it too, there are other factors that play a role such as previous illness or trauma and environmental triggers.
Q: Are chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia the same thing?
A: These two chronic health conditions share some symptoms in common but are not one in the same. In fibromyalgia, fatigue is usually secondary to debilitating muscle pain. In chronic fatigue syndrome, pain typically plays less of a factor and the overwhelming symptom is unrelenting fatigue and lack of energy.
Q: Is exercise good for me if I have fibromyalgia?
A: Contrary to what you may think, a regular routine of gentle exercise is one of the best things fibromyalgia sufferers can do to naturally reduce pain and improve sleep quality. When first starting out, it is important to ease into a new routine to not over-work your muscles. Starting with a 5-minute walk and building up to 30 minutes of movement daily is a good goal. Other fibro-friendly activities might include yoga, gentle stretching, pedaling on a stationary bike, or swimming some laps in the pool.
Q: Are my GI symptoms related to my fibromyalgia diagnosis?
A: Between 40% and 70% of fibromyalgia sufferers have GI symptoms that might include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, nausea, heartburn constipation, and diarrhea. Conditions like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and GERD (gastrointestinal esophageal reflux disease) are common in people with fibromyalgia.
Q: Does fibromyalgia only affect women?
A: Those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are overwhelmingly female (between 80% and 90%), but the condition does absolutely affect men and sometimes even children and teens. Because of this well-known myth, it is possible that men (and children) may not seek out or receive an accurate diagnosis.
Q: Are my migraines/headaches and fibromyalgia connected?
A: About 70% of fibromyalgia patients also experience either recurrent migraines or tension-type headaches. One possibility is that the migraines or headaches are related to trigger points in the neck and shoulders. Another is that changes in the central nervous system that occur in fibromyalgia sufferers are also a contributing factor in their migraines.
Improving Nervous System Function Helps Fibromyalgia Patients
Now that fibromyalgia is being viewed in the healthcare community as a nervous system-based disorder, ensuring normal nervous system function is becoming more of a priority for those affected by the condition. For this reason, more fibromyalgia sufferers are finding their way to upper cervical chiropractic care. Upper cervical chiropractic care seeks to optimize central nervous system (CNS) function by addressing the area that is the most critical – the brainstem and the vertebra that protects it.
The brainstem serves to coordinate many of our body’s vital functions. It acts as a “switchboard” for signals traveling between the brain and body. Pain signals travel over this system and are interpreted by the brain to tell us how painful the stimulus is. Fibromyalgia sufferers experience an amplification of these pain signals as if the volume was turned up too high, so something that would not ordinarily be perceived as painful would be interpreted as being very painful. The underlying cause of this miscommunication may be in a misalignment of the atlas vertebra, which can cause irritation of the CNS and distort the transmission of normal signals.
NUCCA chiropractic care is a branch of chiropractic that gives its full attention to this critical area of the CNS. You will find that NUCCA care is very individualized towards each patient’s needs, is extremely gentle, and very effective. Many fibromyalgia sufferers have found natural, long-lasting results under NUCCA care.
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