Fibromyalgia: What Is It? How severe is it?
Last fall, in an issue of Vogue magazine, Lady Gaga publicly disclosed her struggles with fibromyalgia. This served to act as a spotlight on a condition that many of us have heard of, but don’t know a lot about. Lady Gaga disclosed that she lives in chronic pain, and has had to cancel concerts and admit herself to the hospital due to the severity of her pain. Since her admission, there has been a lot of public conversation around fibromyalgia, and we hope that this post can help summarize where we are in that conversation and what that means for you or someone you love who suffers from this debilitating condition.
“It’s all in your head”
Until recently, many suffering from chronic pain were told simply that fibromyalgia was not a physical condition, but a mental illness. Doctor’s would even tell their otherwise entirely healthy patients that the condition was virtually imaginary – that the brain was sending false signals and that the pain wasn’t ‘real’. Fortunately for sufferers, the medical establishment has done a 180 on this notion, and fibromyalgia is now nearly universally recognized as a legitimate medical condition.
Who suffers from fibromyalgia?
It is estimated that 2% of Canadians suffer from fibromyalgia, according to the Arthritis Society of Canada. Women tend to develop the condition much more often than men and typically do so between the ages of 20 and 50.
What are the symptoms?
Each individual’s symptoms of fibromyalgia can present in a variety of ways. The common denominator between all of these symptoms is pain. Many who suffer from fibromyalgia find even being lightly touched unpleasant. Other common symptoms include difficulty sleeping, headaches, trouble thinking clearly, digestion issues (IBS), anxiety, and depression.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Unfortunately, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, which may explain why the condition remained unrecognized by the medical establishment for so long. It is thought that the condition may be associated with a number of risk factors, including severe injuries, arthritis, and a person’s genetics.
Is there a cure?
At present, there is no cure for fibromyalgia, but much can be done to alleviate the symptoms. Below is a list of common treatments that are used to manage pain and the other symptoms listed above:
Medications: Health Canada has approved a handful of medications to treat fibromyalgia. These include Pregabalin, Gabapentin, and Duloxetine. The effectiveness of these medications vary by individual, and each has side effects. Medication can be beneficial for many and can serve as the first line of defence while other more sustainable individualized treatments are explored and implemented. Generally, medication is most effective when used in combination with other management strategies.
Exercise: Although exercise can be difficult at first, one study has demonstrated that regular exercise (the study used walking, swimming, and cycling) can lead to a reduction in pain and fatigue, and better general mobility. Another neurological study found that exercise even reversed one recorded abnormal brain activity pattern that some sufferers share.
Psychological Therapy: Behavioural and biofeedback therapy have both demonstrated promise in the alleviation of symptoms. Behavioural therapy is what you might think of as ‘traditional’ therapy, and involves a guided approach working with a psychologist or other counselling professional. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps train to reduce negative thoughts and behaviours associated with pain. Biofeedback therapy works by actually training you to have a measure of control over brainwaves.
Naturopathic Treatment: Many naturopaths believe that the causes of fibromyalgia lie in part with the significantly increased concentrations of chemicals we ingest in our modern culture. It is believed that these chemicals may be more toxic to some than others, and drain the body’s energy on a cellular level. Naturopathic treatment generally involves an approach involving detoxification so that the body can then begin to heal itself. Although a primary aspect of naturopathic healing, there are many other approaches used in the holistic effort to address a person’s whole health.
Diet/lifestyle: Although it is important for all of us, there is evidence that it is particularly important for sufferers to watch what they eat by making sure their diet is well balanced. It is recommended that caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine be avoided entirely. Rest, sleeping well, and reducing stress can all contribute to a greater sense of wellness. In addition, journaling and finding light hobbies can be helpful for some sufferers.
Social Network: No, we are not talking about Facebook here! There is strong evidence that sharing your condition and suffering openly with friends and family can lead to a greater sense of connectedness and actually help mitigate symptoms. Support groups for fibromyalgia are also effective and benefit through associations with other sufferers who understand your experience better than most can.
Acupuncture: About 1 in 5 Canadian sufferers will use acupuncture within 2 years of being diagnosed. Research has suggested that pain is reduced in many sufferers, and that stiffness is improved as well. The world-renowned Mayo Clinic recognizes acupuncture as an effective means of reducing many types of chronic pain and identifies fibromyalgia as a condition that acupuncture may help significantly manage.
Massage Therapy: Many sufferers list a number of benefits from massage therapy. The top benefits listed include improved sleep, better muscle function, improved mental clarity, headache reduction/elimination, and the alleviation of depression and/or anxiety. Massage therapy is thought to be effective for fibromyalgia through improved blood circulation in the muscles, which both help send nutrients and expel waste products from areas where that might not otherwise be able to do so on their own.
Other Natural Remedies: There is evidence that supplements such as vitamin D, magnesium, soy, and creatine may help alleviate symptoms. Research is ongoing. Yoga, meditation, and tai chi are also frequently listed as light activities that show anecdotal promise.
Our Approach: Each Sufferer is Unique and Requires a Unique Management Strategy
At Absolute Rehab Centre we take fibromyalgia very seriously and have assisted hundreds of sufferers to alleviate their symptoms to help them lead a greater quality life. We know that each sufferer experiences their symptoms differently, and an approach that might work for one client, may not work for another. If you or a loved one suffers from fibromyalgia, we invite you to visit us to find out how our team can best address your unique symptoms. Contact Us Today
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