Do you know someone who says they have fibromyalgia? It seems like more and more people are being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but you also might have heard that it’s not a real disease. If you have chronic pain, you might be wondering: Is fibromyalgia real? And do I have it?
Is Fibromyalgia Real?
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by “widespread musculoskeletal pain.” We’re still learning about the condition, but researchers believe that it “amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and nonpainful signals.”
Symptoms often begin after an event, such as physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress, but sometimes symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event. Symptoms come and go. Periods in which someone is experiencing symptoms are called flare-ups.
Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men and common co-occurring conditions include tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression.
How Do I Know If I Have Fibromyalgia?
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Widespread pain on both sides of your body and above and below your waist
- Sleep problems
- Waking up still feeling tired
- Memory and thinking problems
- Mood issues
What Do I Do If I Think I Have Fibromyalgia?
See a Doctor
A doctor can diagnose you with fibromyalgia. There are several conditions that can cause unexplained pain, like lupus and hypothyroidism, so your doctor will have to rule other problems out first. Then, they’ll ask you if you’ve had pain in “19 specific places in the past week, including your arms, legs, back, jaw, and neck.” This is how they measure what’s called the widespread pain index (WPI). WPI scores range from 0 to 19.
The symptom severity (SS) scale measures three key symptoms during the past week:
- Waking up still tired
- Thinking problems
The SS scale ranges from 0 to 3:
- 0 – No problems
- 1 – Mild: It comes and goes
- 2 – Moderate: You usually have or feel it
- 3 – Severe: It seriously affects your daily life
Your doctor also will ask if you’ve experienced other symptoms that can affect people who have fibromyalgia, like depression, anxiety, taste changes, numbness, dizziness and more. This score ranges from 0 (no symptoms) to 3 (a lot of problems).
Your doctor will add all the SS numbers together to get a score. It will be between 0 and 12.
Your doctor may tell you that you fibromyalgia if you:
- Have a WPI score of 7 or more and SS score of 5 or more
- Have WPI of 3 to 6 and an SS score of 9 or more
- Have had symptoms at the same level for at least 3 months
- Don’t have any other condition that can cause these symptoms
If you’re diagnosed with fibromyalgia, your doctor will educate you on different ways you can manage pain and other symptoms.
Manage Your Symptoms
There isn’t a cure for fibromyalgia, but there are ways you can manage your symptoms:
There are three FDA-approved medications for treating fibromyalgia symptoms, as well as a few others that are sometimes prescribed off-label (that’s when a medication that’s FDA-approved for one condition is used to treat another).
- Lyrica – Pregabalin, known by its brand name Lyrica, can help with anxiety, some sleep problems and pain in people with fibromyalgia
- Cymbalta and Savella – Duloxetine and milnacipran, known by their brand names Cymbalta and Savella, are “dual-acting norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake inhibitors that are approved for use in people with fibromyalgia. They raise levels of neurotransmitters known to prevent pain transmission”
Other medications sometimes prescribed off-label for fibromyalgia include:
- Antidepressants like amitriptyline hydrochloride (Elavil, Endep), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft). These are used to treat pain but can of course also treat the depression that may come with fibromyalgia
- Analgesics, like tramadol (Ultracet, Ultram)
- Muscle relaxants, such as cyclobenzaprine (Cycloflex, Flexeril)
- Fatigue medications, like modafinil (Provigil)
If you don’t want to take medications or rely solely on medication, there are all-natural treatments that can help with symptoms, including regular exercise. While it’s probably not going to be easy to motivate yourself to exercise when you’re in pain, it’s very effective at managing that pain.
Leslie J. Crofford, MD, chief of rheumatology and women’s health at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington says:
“The goal is to start low and go slow, in terms of increasing physical activity. We tell people to start at their capacity – no matter how brief that is.”
If you haven’t exercised in a while, try starting with a simple routine like this:
- A five-minute warm up
- 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, like walking
- A five-minute cool down
And of course, If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or are suffering from chronic pain, ask your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
Stress amplifies pain, so stress reduction can make a huge difference in the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms. In a 2004 study, Laurence A. Bradley, PhD, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and his colleagues “compared the pain perception and neurologic responses of women with fibromyalgia to healthy women as they revisited stressful personal events.”
Researchers applied heat to the participants’ forearms and asked them to think about stressful personal events they’ve experienced. Even though all the women were asked to think about equally stressful events, the individuals with fibromyalgia reported higher levels of pain from the heat.
For stress reduction, you can try:
- Salt therapy
- Deep breathing
- Music and art therapy
Certain lifestyle changes can help you to manage symptoms. Some of these changes include:
- Making sure you’re getting enough high-quality sleep – going to bed and waking up at the same time, practicing good sleep hygiene, and “unplugging” and relaxing about an hour before you want to be asleep can help
- How do you treat your body? – Do you spend a lot of time at a computer and if so, are you sitting up straight or hunched over? Do you wear shoes that are the right size and comfortable enough? Do you move your body enough during the day? Do you stretch regularly?
- What is your diet like? Research has found that diet can have an impact on fibromyalgia symptoms. Eating more whole or all-natural foods and eating less processed foods can help you to manage your pain and other symptoms.
Biofeedback therapy is designed to teach individuals “how to control automatic body functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure, and even brain waves.”
During biofeedback training, sensors are attached to your body. They detect changes in your pulse, skin temperature, muscle tone, brain-wave pattern, or other physiological functions. These changes trigger some type of signal, like a beep or other sound or a flashing light, that tells you that the physiological change has occurred. Over time, with the help of your biofeedback therapist, you should be able to learn to “alter the signal by taking conscious control of your body’s automatic body functions.” By controlling your body’s automatic functions, you can learn to actually reduce the pain you feel.
However, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence that supports the efficacy of biofeedback therapy. And while biofeedback is generally considered to be a safe form of therapy, there are no state laws that regulate the training of biofeedback therapists.
Massage for Fibromyalgia Pain in Austin
Massage is a popular natural therapy for fibromyalgia, and for good reason. A systematic review of research around massage for treating fibromyalgia found that massage therapy done for five or more weeks resulted in “beneficial immediate effects on improving pain, anxiety, and depression” in patients with fibromyalgia.
Looking for a gentle, relaxing way to deal with your fibromyalgia or other chronic pain symptoms? Work regular massages into your schedule by signing up for a Sage Blossom membership. Members get a discounted massage every month, 10% off our extra services and add-ons like Sauna, Salt Therapy, Cupping and Gua Sha, as well as 10% off gift certificates and 5% off retail.
Don’t wait any longer for relief. Become a Sage Blossom member today.
This blog post and all content and media on www.sageblossommassage.com is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.