Fibromyalgia (FM) causes widespread pain to an estimated 5.8 million Americans. FM is considered a “musculoskeletal disorder,” even though many of the symptoms include other body systems, especially the gastrointestinal system, as conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) often co-exist with FM. It is thought that FM is a disorder that amplifies the manner in which the brain processes pain, making the body’s pain receptors hypersensitive. For example, FM can result in a 3/10 pain level (normally tolerated) being amplified to 7 or 8/10, which is enough to interfere with daily activities. FM often follows some type of severe physical or mental trauma, such as a car accident, surgery, or a significant psychological stress. The widespread pain results in fatigue, sleep deprivation, depression, and more. The following are ten of the most common symptoms associated with FM:
- Pain: This is the primary symptom, and it is typically widespread/whole body but doesn’t necessarily occur all at once. It can flair during stressful times, when the weather changes, if one’s sleep schedule is interrupted/altered, and it can be achy, stabbing, burning, tingling, pins/needles, or a mix.
- Sensitivity to Touch: FM pain can be so sensitive that the weight of bed sheets or a light touch can be excruciating. Simple traumas like stubbing a toe or a bruise can be much more intense and last a lot longer in the FM patient.
- Environmental Sensitivity: Things such as exposure to tobacco smoke, loud noise, chemical cleaners, and/or bright lights often intensify or bring on FM symptoms.
- Muscle and Joint Stiffness can occur frequently, especially in the mornings and after prolonged sitting.
- Muscle Spasms: Cramps, “Charlie horses,” RLS (restless leg syndrome) are common, especially during the night, thus interfering with sleep.
- Exhaustion: Sleep deprivation can lead to exhaustion and insomnia (lack of sleep) is a common FM issue. This can lead to chronic fatigue, causing energy levels to crash.
- Concentration Problems: Brain or “cognitive” function is a frequent problem affecting short-term memory, information retention, “mental fog”, trouble concentrating/staying on task, and at times, dizziness.
- Chronic Headaches: Tension and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and upper back often results in tension and/or migraine headaches. Environmental triggers may be associated with the headache onset such as smells, light, or loud sounds (see #3).
- Bowel Problems: FM and conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often co-exist which can cause diarrhea and constipation, often changing back and forth. Here, a change in diet can be particularly helpful!
- Depression: Like IBS, depression and FM are commonly matched and it often arises from having to deal with chronic, amplified pain, not being able to participate in family or social events, and low energy levels. This can be a “vicious cycle” as the more that activity interference occurs, the greater the risk/level of depression. This can lead to becoming afraid to walk, exercise, and getting out, which can feed the depression.
Obviously, there are many other signs and symptoms commonly associated with FM, but these seem almost “universal.” Next month, we will look at ways to “beat” these ten common complaints and offer some treatment solutions! Chiropractic care has been found to greatly facilitate FM sufferers and is an important player in managing the FM patient.