Fibromyalgia is a recently discovered, highly complex disorder that is defined by a specific set of signs and symptoms including fatigue and chronic pain. Most patients who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia are not formally diagnosed right away. Many will seek medical advice for various symptoms in excess of 5 years and even undergo surgery, misdiagnosis, and additional complications before finally being formally diagnosed with fibromyalgia. For many years, fibromyalgia has been considered a “wastebasket” diagnosis but it is now considered a true illness as well as a potential cause for disability.
Chronic pain in the muscles and ligaments, as a result of fibromyalgia, cause many fibromyalgia sufferers to change their work tasks, decrease their work week or even file for disability as a result of the disorder. Fibromyalgia affects more than 4 million Americans, primarily women in their mid 30’s to late 50’s. Less than one half of a percent of the affected individuals who suffer from fibromyalgia are male.
There are no known specific causes for fibromyalgia but there have been recent findings related to some indications regarding individuals with fibromyalgia. People who suffer from fibromyalgia process pain differently than the average person and they carry a higher level of substance P in the cerebrospinal fluid. Substance P is the fluid that transmits impulses of pain to the brain and those with fibromyalgia have up to three times more of this fluid than the average person who does not have fibromyalgia.
Some researchers argue that fibromyalgia is the result of a lack of deep sleep in which the muscles usually recover prior daily activities. Individuals who suffer from fibromyalgia become aroused during the 4th stage of sleep thus their muscles do not have the time to recover. People with fibromyalgia may sleep excessively due to chronic fatigue but they are not getting “good” sleep. Tests have been conducted on individuals who did not previously show signs of fibromyalgia to determine if poor sleep is the cause. Studies show that even people who are forced out of deep stage 4 sleep repeatedly will show similar signs to those who suffer from fibromyalgia.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia include pain, fatigue and lack of concentration or memory loss. Most prominent of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is pain which appears similar to arthritis except the pain is in the muscles and ligaments rather than in the joints. Most fibromyalgia patients report pain in the neck, back, shoulders and hips. Fibromyalgia pain is heightened in the mornings and can feel like throbbing, aching or even stabbing.
Another very common symptom of fibromyalgia is fatigue. This is likely associated with the lack of “good” sleep that most fibromyalgia patients suffer from . Many doctors misdiagnosis fibromyalgia as chronic fatigue syndrome because of the many similarities between the two conditions. Fatigue ranges in fibromyalgia patients from mild or moderate to severe. For some patients who suffer from fibromyalgia, the fatigue is so severe that they have trouble holding a job or performing routine daily tasks.
Fibromyalgia sufferers will often have difficulty concentrating and may even suffer from moderate to severe memory loss. Depression often occurs as a result of the inability to remember important items and also as a result of lack of sleep. Some fibromyalgia patients refer to this mental haze as fibrofog.
Fibromyalgia Care and Fibromyalgia Physical Therapy
Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can be relieved with low impact exercise that keeps the muscles conditioned. Discomfort can be drastically relieved with regular exercise (at lest 3 times a week) such as walking swimming or water aerobics. Muscle straining exercises such as weight lifting should be avoided to reduce the stress on the muscles and ligaments.
Over-the-counter pain medications can also be used to alleviate some of the minor aches and pains associated with fibromyalgia. Common over-the-counter pain medications that may help with fibromyalgia pain include naprozxen, asprin, and acetaminophen. Like any medication, fibromyalgia patients should consult with their doctor before taking any type of pain reliever or over-the-counter medication.
Fibromyalgia physical therapy can help restore self-management skills to those who suffer from all different types of pain and conditions. Physical therapists can help fibromyalgia patients to learn how to alleviate certain symptoms and pains that are associated with fibromyalgia in order to restore function and mobility. Fibromyalgia physical therapy can also help patients build strength and improve range of motion.
Fibromyalgia physical therapy can reduce stiffness and fatigue and ease pain. Physical therapists will help fibromyalgia patients to stretch, exercise in low impact and safe ways and increase range of motion. Deep tissue massage is another common therapy that is used for the treatment and relief of pain associated with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia physical therapy when provided in conjunction with healthy habits at home can be very beneficial for individuals who suffer from chronic pain and fatigue as a result of fibromyalgia.