8 March, 2022
Anyone who has fibro knows that it's more than just relentless pain. The fatigue, "fibro brain", emotional changes and so much more affect day to day life.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia may result in pain spread across the body such as:
There'll also be other difficulties like:
- Waking feeling unrefreshed
- Memory or thought problems, also called "fibro brain"
- Tenderness to touch
Some people with fibromyalgia have other issues like:
- Jaw pain - medically called TMD
- Anxiety or depression
- Digestive problems
- Pelvic pain
Mechanism of Fibromyalgia
Unfortunately, there's a lot we don't know about fibromyalgia still.
There are some things that we know it's not:
- It's not an autoimmune condition - like Rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus are
- It's not an inflammatory condition
- It's not a joint or muscle condition
We now understand that fibromyalgia, like chronic pain & irritable bowel syndrome, involves central sensitisation.
What is Central Sensitisation?
The brain and spinal cord amplify signals. Something seemingly small, like clothes brushes against your skin, for most people is fine. In fact, your brain switches off to the sensation of your clothes because it's not required information. With central sensitisation, the brain and spinal cord are more easily excitable. They react, frequently in a big way, to small inputs, like clothes. This is why some people with fibro struggle with wearing certain clothes.
Fibromyalgia is a difficult condition to diagnosis. Tests like x-rays, bloods and brain scans show everything is normal - but you can feel far from normal. It's still important to get these tests performed before making an official diagnosis of fibromyalgia. There may be more than one diagnosis or it could in fact be something else - and that's important for finding the right therapies.
Many people see a lot of doctors and specialist before they’re are diagnosed with fibro.
Fibromyalgia Treatment Options
Being such a complex condition, it's important to have a supportive team around you. This may be coordinated by your GP, rheumatologist or other practitioners.
Neurofeedback works to re-train the brainwave patterns.
There's only limited research on neurofeedback for fibro. This largely has to do with funding- there's limited practitioners trained in neurofeedback and less who focus on pain. There's no benefit for big companies to fund expensive research projects as there's no profit to gain from it.
In saying that, what do the small research studies show? One study of 60 fibro patients undergoing neurofeedback training showed improvements in (Wu et al. 2021):
- Pain severity
- Interference in daily life
- Ability to get to sleep
Psychology & Counselling
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other psychological therapies have been shown to have small but helpful changes for fibro (Glombiewski et al. 2005). You'll learn how to manage the emotional changes of fibro and strengthen your relationship with yourself.
Being guided by a mental health practitioner such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor can also be beneficial for the anxiety and / or depression that frequently occur alongside fibromyalgia.
Pain killers, anti-depressants and sleeping tablets are commonly prescribed for fibro. They can help improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia and should be discussed with your GP or specialist.
Certain diets, like the FODMAP diet, or supplements may help improve fibro symptoms. There's no definitive answers here either. What works for some won't work for others. Your naturopath or dietitian will thoroughly assess your current diet and health before making recommendations that improve your nutrition uptake and work to alleviate symptoms.
Fatigue is a big feature of fibro. Ensuring having good bedtime routine, consistent sleep & wake time and limiting stimulating activities prior to bed can be helpful.
Exercise will improve your strength, flexibility and stamina. It can also help release happy chemicals, called endorphins, to improve your mood. The increased blood flow around the body, helps flush the brain with fresh blood and promotes brain growth & healing.
It may be overwhelming to start exercising initially. It can feel like it sets off your symptoms. Even just a few minutes a day is a great place to begin. It's normal to feel a little muscle pain after exercising - particularly if it's been a while or a new type of exercise.
Some gentle forms of exercise include:
- Tai Chi
- Qi Gong
Some people find relief from their physical symptoms with hands on work. They can move better, feel stronger and get more out of their day. Acupuncture may help with pain, fatigue and nausea associated with chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia.
Some examples of pain relieving therapies may include:
About the Author
Dr Cassie Atkinson-Quinton - Chiropractor, Brain Health Coach & Biofeedback Practitioner
Dr Cassie is a Chiropractor and Brain Health Coach. Having a special interest in treating nerves and brain-based conditions like nerve pain, chronic pain, dizziness, whiplash, migraines and fibromyalgia. She's one of a handful of practitioners to be trained in Neuro-Rehabilitation, Neurofeedback, QEEG Functional Brain Scans and Brain Health Coaching.
She’s had concussions and atypical migraines as well as a vestibular disorder called Labyrinthitis. During this time, she would hold on to tables to avoid falling over. She understands the journey coming from a family of chronic pain and migraine sufferers.
Similar articles you'll enjoy:
- Glombiewski JA, Sawyer AT, Gutermann J, Koenig K, Rief W, Hofmann SG. Psychological treatments for fibromyalgia: a meta-analysis. PAIN®. 2010 Nov 1;151(2):280-95.
- Lowry E, Marley J, McVeigh JG, McSorley E, Allsopp P, Kerr D. Dietary interventions in the management of fibromyalgia: A systematic review and best-evidence synthesis. Nutrients. 2020 Sep;12(9):2664.
- Wu YL, Fang SC, Chen SC, Tai CJ, Tsai PS. Effects of Neurofeedback on Fibromyalgia: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pain Management Nursing. 2021 Feb 9.