Fibromyalgia is one of the most common kinds of pain disorders today. Officially confirmed as a medical condition in 1981, medical professionals have learned more about the disease, its symptoms and its possible causes as years have progressed.
Because fibromyalgia is an “invisible disease” that doesn’t cause obvious outward symptoms, many people think of it as being rare (due to the fact that they can’t look around and visibly identify people who have it).
The disease is not rare, though; more than 5 million people in the U.S. have fibromyalgia. Although 80% of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women, men can suffer from the disease, as well.
Symptoms most commonly identified with fibromyalgia are chronic, widespread muscle and joint pain and extreme, constant fatigue.
The disease has many more symptoms, however, differing from patient to patient. Some people experience migraine headaches and a sensitivity to touch, light, and sound.
Other people have gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Insomnia, anxiety and depression are incredibly common with fibromyalgia.
Patients report symptoms that range from dizziness and depersonalization to numbness and tingling in various parts of the body.
Because the symptoms are so wide-ranging and can vary so much from person to person, it can take time to receive a proper diagnosis.
A Pain in the Back
Back pain is a common fibromyalgia symptom. The pain can be widespread throughout the entire back, or it can be concentrated in a specific area.
Some people experience pain that is more mild, while others have intense pain and even muscle spasms in their backs.
Almost half of fibromyalgia patients polled said that they experience pain in their lower backs. Back pain is such a common symptom of fibromyalgia that it used to be one of the factors that doctors would check for in order to make a diagnosis.
Researchers are still working to figure out an explanation for why fibromyalgia causes the symptoms that it does—including back pain.
One of the theories they’ve developed is that fibromyalgia is a kind of condition known as a “central hypersensitivity syndrome.”
This means that in someone with fibromyalgia, their central nervous system has trouble processing information properly and is easily overstimulated.
This causes hypersensitivity throughout the body, which presents in the form of sensory sensitivity (such as the inability to be around bright lights, loud sounds or strong scents), as well as skin sensitivity and high levels of pain throughout the body.
Treatment for Fibromyalgia-Related Back Pain
Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are a variety of treatments that can help with its symptoms—including back pain.
The most important step (before starting any treatment on your own) is to schedule a visit with your doctor in order to determine the cause of your back pain.
Your doctor will rule out things such as pulled muscles or a damaged or misaligned spinal disc. If your back pain is related to your fibromyalgia, here are some options for easing your pain:
As long as you aren’t experiencing extreme sensitivity to touch, massage can be a wonderful way to relax inflamed, tense back muscles (as well as a good way to relieve stress and anxiety).
Find a massage therapist that will work in a way that is comfortable for you; if you’re too painful, a trigger point massage, while effective (as it targets knots in muscles that can refer pain to an overall area) might be too intense.
With massage, you can start out with gentle sessions and have your therapist work up towards more intense targeting of inflamed areas, if possible.
An acupressure massage may be an effective way to relieve fibromyalgia-related back pain, as it targets the same acupressure points as acupuncture does.
Stimulation of these points can help relieve inflammation and release endorphins that can help lessen pain.
Back pain is a common reason that people visit physical therapists. Working with your physical therapist, you’ll learn ways to help ease your pain at home.
Your therapist may use heat or ice packs to relieve pain or lessen inflammation. Treatment with an ultrasound device or a TENS unit (which uses electrical stimulation to contract muscles) may be part of the program to get your pain under control.
This is known as passive physical therapy. In the active portion of your treatment, you will learn how to properly stretch the affected muscles.
You’ll also do exercises that will help to strengthen groups of muscles related to the back. (For instance, your core—or stomach—muscles, play a big role in helping your back muscles to function in an effective and healthy manner. Physical therapy for back pain will often involve working and strengthening these core muscles.)
Treatment for Anxiety and Depression
When many people first seek help for their fibromyalgia symptoms, they are often told that it’s all in their head due to the fact that there isn’t usually an easy and obvious diagnosis for the multitude of symptoms they may be experiencing.
While fibromyalgia is a very real disease with very real physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue, it also causes mental/emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression, in turn, can exacerbate physical symptoms (such as pain and fatigue), which then cause the patient to become more anxious and depressed.
For this reason, addressing symptoms such as anxiety and depression are key in helping manage pain levels in areas such as the back.
Your doctor will know if an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication will be helpful for you. Other ways to manage anxiety and depression are through cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as regular meditation practice and exercise.
Fibromyalgia symptoms differ widely from individual to individual. Because of this, effective treatment plans for its symptoms differ widely, as well.
Through patience, trial and error, you’ll be able to figure out how best to help your back pain, as well as your other fibromyalgia symptoms.