Fibromyalgia is a very common musculoskeletal condition, second to osteoarthritis. However, it is still often misunderstood and even misdiagnosed.
Since the symptoms often come and go and are not always visible, it has been called the “invisible illness.” This is because of the “invisible symptoms” of the condition.
Some of the characteristics of this condition are: fatigue and widespread muscle/joint pain, as well as some other symptoms. Individuals who are dealing with fibromyalgia often also deal with social isolation and even depression.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome-not an illness in and of itself, which is a set of symptoms. When a particular set of symptoms coexist, they imply that there is a specific condition already present or the potential for developing that condition is high. When it comes to fibromyalgia, following are some of the symptoms that often occur together:
- Widespread pain
- Decreased pain threshold
- Incapacitating fatigue
- Tender points
Over 12 million Americans suffer from this condition, most of which are women between the ages of 25- 60. In fact, women are ten times more likely to develop this condition than men.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms Explained
When you have the condition of fibromyalgia, you ache from head to toe. You may also experience feelings of extreme fatigue- even upon waking up in the mornings.
There are specific points on the body- called tender points- that are painful when touched. In addition, you are likely to experience depression and other mood disturbances and even disturbances in your restful sleep cycles.
You will most likely feel like your muscles have been pulled or overworked- even without working out or some other reason. You also may experience your muscles twitching, burning, or even a deep, stabbing pain.
Some individuals with this condition have an achiness/pain felt around their hip joints, shoulder joints, neck and back. Therefore, individuals with this condition often have a very difficult time getting quality sleep or exercising.
Some of the other symptoms of the condition of fibromyalgia include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Dryness in mucous membranes
- Chronic headaches
- Inability to focus/concentrate (“fibro fog”)
- Tingling/numb feet and fingers
- Incontinence and IBS
- Extreme sensitivity to cold/heat
You may even notice that some of the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia are like those of bursitis, tendinitis, and osteoarthritis.
Due to this fact, there are some experts that group the condition of fibromyalgia in with this same group of arthritis and arthritis-related conditions.
However, something you should know is that the pain, stiffness, and other symptoms of fibromyalgia are widespread through the body and tendinitis, bursitis, or arthritis are located in one specific area.
Which Tests are Best for Diagnosing Fibromyalgia?
In order to make a proper diagnosis, your physician is going to collect a medical and family history and complete a comprehensive physical exam. There is a blood test available that can help to confirm or deny a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
This test is known as FM/a and it identifies markers that the blood cells in the immune system produce in those individuals who have this condition.
On the other hand, it’s not clear how much truth is found in this test- and it costs over $700- and most insurance companies do not cover it.
You should speak with your physician to find out if FM/a is the best test for you. He or she may wish to do some other testing first.
In order to determine if there is a more serious illness present, your physician may wish to run some other blood tests. For example, chances are, your physician will order a CBC, or complete blood count.
In addition, he or she may requests tests for specific chemicals- such as glucose- that can cause problems very similar to the signs and symptoms caused by the condition of fibromyalgia.
Another test that will most likely be done is a thyroid test. The truth is that an underactive thyroid causes issues such as those that are caused by the condition of fibromyalgia- including muscle aches, depression, fatigue, and even weakness.
Some of the other common lab tests that are used to rule out a more serious illness is Lyme titers, rheumatoid factor (RF), calcium level, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), vitamin D levels, and antinuclear antibodies (ANA).
Your physician will also compare your symptoms to the diagnostic criteria for the condition of fibromyalgia as is outlined in the American College of Rheumatology.
Some of these criteria include widespread pain that lasts for three months or more. When we say widespread pain, this means pain that is existing on both sides- right and left- both above and below the waist, and also in the lower back, chest, middle back, and neck.
This particular criteria directs is focus more on the symptoms of the condition than on the specific tender points located on the body. In the past, it was the tender points that determined the diagnosis.
Finally, when determining your diagnosis of fibromyalgia, your physician is going to take the time to look over the severity of your other symptoms such as mood disorders and/or depression, disturbances in sleep, and overall fatigue. This will help to determine how much of an impact the condition of fibromyalgia is having on your overall quality of life.
What are Some Standard Treatments for the Condition of Fibromyalgia?
Of course, you should be aware that there is no cure for this condition of fibromyalgia at this time.
In addition, there is no specific treatment that will treat all of the symptoms of this condition all at one time. Instead of one particular, standard treatment, there is a wide variety of both traditional and alternative treatments that have been proven to be effective for treating this condition.
Your treatment program for your condition of fibromyalgia must be a program that is a combination of exercises, medications, and changes in your behavior.
Drugs Used to Treat the Condition of Fibromyalgia
The American College of Rheumatology states that medication therapy used to treat the condition of fibromyalgia basically focuses on the symptoms.
There are three medications at this time that have been approved to treat the condition of fibromyalgia: Savella, Lyrica, and Cymbalta.
According to the FDA, the medication Lyrica, which is typically used to treat nerve pain that results from spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and shingles can also work to improve the pain related to fibromyalgia in some individuals.
The other two, Savella and Cymbalta are in a drug class that is referred to as SNRIs or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
Other medical treatments, such as low doses of tricyclic antidepressants, for example amitriptyline and Flexeril, have been proven to be effective for treating the condition of fibromyalgia.
Additionally, there have been some positive results that have been proven with antidepressants that are referred to as dual reuptake inhibitors such as Effexor. One pain relieving medication that has been proven effective is Ultram.
Your physician may prescribe you an antidepressant such as Zoloft, Paxil, or Prozac, which are great for relieving your symptoms of depression as well as your pain and sleep disorders.
More recently, there have been some researchers that revealed that Neurontin, an antiepileptic medication has been used to treat the condition of fibromyalgia.
Finally, NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been proven to be extremely effective for treating pain related to the condition of fibromyalgia.
However, it’s best to avoid opioid medications if at all possible because they really do not work on a long term basis and can actually lead to dependency and ultimately addiction.
What are Some of the Alternative Treatments Available for Fibromyalgia?
There are some alternative therapies available for treating the condition of fibromyalgia. However, you should be aware that while these can help you to manage your symptoms of fibromyalgia, they have not been well tested.
For example, massage works to manipulate your muscles and soft tissues and can help to ease the pain that is deep in your muscles.
There will be more on massage later on in this article, but massage does help to relieve the pain related to tender points, tense muscles, and even muscle spasms.
Myofascial release is a form of massage therapy that works on a much broader range of muscles. It can help to realign, lengthen, stretch, and soften the connective tissue that is affected to ease your discomfort.
In addition to massage therapies, the American Pain Society has recommended some moderately intense aerobics two to three times per week.
In addition, the American Pain Society does support clinician-assisted treatments such as the following:
- Chiropractic manipulation (more on that one later on)
- Therapeutic massage
These alternative treatments will be wonderful for relieving the pain associated with the condition of fibromyalgia.
Finally, in addition to the medical and even the alternative therapies, it is critical that individuals suffering from the condition of fibromyalgia take the time they need to relax and rest.
Some ways to do this are practicing relaxation therapies such as deep breathing exercises or even deep muscle relaxation.
Both of these can help to decrease the stress that increases the production of cortisol in your body and therefore causes a trigger or an increase in your symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Keep in mind that it is critical that you have a specific, set bedtime and waking time every single day. After all, you do realize that sleep is necessary for your body to be able to heal and regenerate itself.
Children and Teens: Can Kids Develop Fibromyalgia?
Typically, it’s quite simple to figure out what is making your child sick. After all, some of the most common childhood conditions such as ear infections and strep throat are fairly easy to diagnose using a physician’s exam or a throat swab.
However, when your child is complaining of fairly vague symptoms such as general fatigue, problems falling or staying asleep, and achiness, they could be suffering from any number of conditions.
One of the rare conditions that is often overlooked in both teens and children is the condition of fibromyalgia- which results in that general pain in the soft tissues and muscles around the joints.
Since fibromyalgia is much more common in women over the age of 18, it is typically NOT one of the first conditions that a physician considers when it comes to children under the age of 18.
Still, somewhere between 1- 7 percent of children are thought to have the condition of fibromyalgia or something similar to it.
As you have already read, the condition of fibromyalgia is just one of a group of conditions that are referred to as musculoskeletal pain syndrome, or MSPS.
In children, the condition of fibromyalgia is known as juvenile primary fibromyalgia syndrome. If your child is also suffering from arthritis or other conditions that are related to fibromyalgia, it is referred to as juvenile secondary fibromyalgia syndrome.
Following is some criteria for spotting the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia in children and teens and what you can do if you suspect that your child is suffering from it.
Causes of Fibromyalgia in Children and Teens
As we have already mentioned, there is no clear cut answer on what exactly causes the condition of fibromyalgia.
However, it is known that the condition does run in families, still there is no gene that has been pinpointed to be the cause.
Some of the research has put a link between the condition of fibromyalgia to several other health conditions, including endocrine, biochemical, immune, and psychological problems.
We mentioned earlier that fibromyalgia is much more likely to affect women than men. It is the same in children and teens- girls are much more likely to be affected by this condition than boys and in most cases will be diagnosed somewhere between the ages of 13 to 15.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms in Children and Teenagers
When it comes to the signs and symptoms of the condition of fibromyalgia in children and teens, the most common one is sore spots on the muscles.
These spots are referred to as “tender points” because when pressure is put on them, they hurt. In order to locate these tender points, the physician will press with their thumb on eighteen areas that are typically painful with the condition of fibromyalgia.
Children who have this condition will feel a bit of tenderness in at least five of the eighteen spots. In addition, they will have had aches and pains for at least three months.
While the soreness can start in one area of the body, eventually it will spread to affect other areas as well. Children with the condition of fibromyalgia describe their pain in a variety of ways including aching, burning, stiffness, tenderness, and tightness.
Some of the other signs and symptoms of the condition of fibromyalgia in children and teens include the same as those of adults:
- Extreme fatigue- even upon having slept
- Sleep problems
- Restless legs when sleeping
- Difficulty focusing and remembering
One of the main reasons why this condition in children and teens is so frustrating is that the symptoms feed off of each other- one affects the other, creating a vicious cycle.
For example: the pain they are experiencing makes it quite difficult for them to sleep. When they don’t sleep well, they feel very tired during the day. When they are so tired, the pain feels much worse. Therefore, this cycle is very difficult to break.
This condition can affect children and teens so severely that it results in them missing school at least three days per month. Plus, having this condition can cause children to isolate themselves socially.
They have difficulty making (and keeping) friends and might feel like they are not popular due to their illness.
If your physician suspects that your child or teen may be suffering from the condition of fibromyalgia, the very same test used to diagnose adults can be used to confirm the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
However, as we already said, keep in mind that the test is very expensive and because it is so new and the efficacy of it has not yet been clearly tested, insurance may or may not cover it. You should ask your physician if this test is necessary for your child or teen.
Treating Fibro in Children and Teenagers
If your child is diagnosed with the condition of fibromyalgia, a team of specialists will be put together. This team will include the following:
- Pediatric rheumatologist, which is a physician specializing in the treatment of children and teens who have arthritis and other related conditions.
- Physical therapist
Keep in mind that while there is no specific cure for this condition in children, teens, or adults, there are some things you can do to help manage the symptoms such as the following:
One of the best ways to effectively treat the condition of fibromyalgia no matter what the individual’s age is to teach them coping strategies to manage the pain.
There is a technique that is known as CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, that can help those with this condition to figure out what their triggers are and how they can deal with them.
This is extremely helpful for helping the patient improve their functioning ability as well as relieving their depression. Some of the other behavioral approaches to treat this condition are: deep breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation.
As mentioned previously, there are some medications available to treat adults with this condition- and rheumatologists may wish to test these in some children and teens.
However, keep in mind that the effectiveness and safety of these medications has not been as extensively studied in children and teens as they have been in adults.
This is a critical part of treating the condition of fibromyalgia. Those who have the condition and are able to remain active will experience much lower levels of depression and pain. You can work with a physical therapist to find out the best exercises for this condition.
In addition, the therapist can teach your child or teen to ease themselves into an exercise program so that they do not end up injuring themselves- and causing a fibro-flare up.
Both physical therapy and massage can help to ease some of the soreness in the muscles that individuals with the condition of fibromyalgia often experience.
For those who are struggling with the condition of fibromyalgia, finding an effective treatment can give them the help and hope that they need to keep going.
It is necessary to make sure your child or teen gets adequate rest and physical activity, maintains a healthy diet, and relieves stress in order to control the condition so that they will be able to remain symptom free over the long haul.
Exercising for Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia
If we’re going to be honest, let’s admit that when you’re in pain, it can be quite tempting to skip the workout- right? However, keep in mind that exercise can often help to improve your quality of life and reduce pain.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy- but the good news is that you’re not being asked to run a marathon. Keep in mind that you must pace yourself and be sure to speak with a physical therapist for more information. Here are ten exercises that can get you moving.
Walking is an excellent, low-impact activity- if it is something that you are able to do. The benefit of this exercise is that you don’t need a special area or special equipment to do it.
You can do it anywhere: your local mall, a school track, a parking lot, your neighborhood- anywhere, as long as it can be done safely. Walking is something that can be done no matter what the season is and there are very few conditions in which you cannot walk.
Swimming is a good activity for those who have chronic pain because it defies gravity. There are no potentially damaging jolts or unpleasant movements to the joints.
It works well for those with conditions such as fibromyalgia because in some cases, impact on the body can cause the problem to be worse.
When it comes to using yoga to treat fibromyalgia pain, the breathing can be just as effective as the movements and the stretching. However, you must keep in mind that you should take care to avoid certain poses.
According to experts, yoga involves extreme ranges of motion with the spine and other joints, so there is always a risk of becoming injured.
You want to make sure that you are stretching and moving within your capabilities. Unless you are in excellent condition, you should never push yourself.
An excellent exercise, no matter what your age, is tai chi. This is a martial art, originating in China. It is much like the practice of yoga in that it cultivates a sense of mindfulness. As long as you are able to move just a little bit, you can practice this art.
It incorporates both your mind and your body. Participating in tai chi sessions twice a week can help reduce the fatigue, stiffness, and pain in those individuals with the condition of fibromyalgia. In addition, it can help to increase your balance, endurance, and strength.
Pilates is becoming a very popular workout regimen, especially for treating chronic pain- including that related to fibromyalgia.
One study revealed that the practice of Pilates was actually much more effective at reducing pain than a stretching/relaxation regimen.
However, if you wish to practice Pilates, you’ll want to speak with an experienced teacher because it does require some instruction.
When it comes to exercising to relieve pain, sometimes you just can’t put in as much effort as you’d like. This is where stretching comes in. you can stretch while sitting around the house or waiting in line.
Stretching and working against gravity can help you get your body moving in a full range of motion. There are many different stretching programs you can choose from.
Light weight/strength training
Weight training is a great exercise for those suffering from conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. This exercise is great for strengthening the joints, which will take some of the stress off of your joints when you are using them.
You can choose weights that range from one ounce to ten pounds- but you must be cautious when you’re doing these exercises. Remember to pace yourself and don’t overdo it.
If you have been inactive for some time, you should start out by using cans of soup or even doing some push-ups or sit-ups.
While exercise is a great way to control the pain of fibromyalgia because it keeps you going- you should speak with your physician before staring a fitness program. You want to make sure that you are able to do it without hurting yourself.
Naturally Treating Fibromyalgia
As you have seen, there is a variety of ways to treat the condition of fibromyalgia in adults, children, and teens. The standard fibromyalgia treatments include a combination of anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, and painkillers. These work to help treat the symptoms of insomnia, pain, and fatigue.
However, for some individuals, these medications provide a less than perfect solution to their problem. One research study found that in some cases, medication treatments are completely ineffective and you’ll need something else entirely.
In addition, they may come with some pretty serious and difficult to deal with side effects. Here are some of the favorite natural treatments for fibromyalgia.
There have been several studies that reveal that practicing yoga on a regular basis can help to ease the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia.
One study, done in 2011, revealed that individuals with fibromyalgia who took a 75 minute yoga class twice a week for eight weeks had less pain related to their condition. In addition, they lowered the levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, in their bodies.
Some experts say that practicing meditation can actually change the way that your body processes pain signals as well as the way the brain functions overall. This means that meditation can possibly improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
One study in 2012 showed that meditation provided effective pain relief. Some experts say that this is because it helps to ease the body and calm the mind. This promotes relaxation and deep rest, which can be effective for helping the body to heal itself.
If you have never heard of 5-HTP, you should know that it is a natural amino acid that helps the body to produce serotonin- which is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter located in the brain.
There have been three studies from the University of Maryland Medical Center that suggest that 5-HTP can work to improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia such as morning stiffness, fatigue, pain, and anxiety.
Some experts believe that this substance works much like an anti-depressant, helping to increase the levels of serotonin and therefore regulating brain functioning.
The experts at NYU Langone Medical Center believe that SAMe works much like 5-HTP. This is a compound that is found naturally in the body and it is believed that it has many health benefits.
There have been four double-blind trials done to study this supplement- three of which found this to be effective for treating individuals with fibromyalgia.
One of the studies had 44 individuals taking SAMe or a placebo for a period of 6 weeks. The individuals who were taking the SAMe reported that they were experiencing an improvement in mood symptoms, getting better rest, and experiencing less fatigue and morning stiffness.
Acupuncture and acupressure are very similar in that both target specific areas to open up energy pathways to ease pain and treat illnesses. Acupuncture uses tiny, thin needles and is an ancient Chinese treatment. Acupressure uses pressure.
In acupuncture, the practitioner will insert one (or more) needles into your skin/underlying tissue at specific points on your body. Then, they will gently twist or gently manipulate the needles to cause the release of endorphins into your bloodstream.
In case you don’t already know, endorphins are your body’s natural opioids- they make you feel good. In addition to releasing endorphins, acupuncture removes any energy blocks in your body.
When these are removed, it promotes the flow of energy along your meridians, which are the energy channels in your body.
Some studies do reveal that acupuncture could possibly alter the chemistry of your brain because it changes the release of neurotransmitters.
Experts say that the neurotransmitters either inhibit or stimulate nerve impulses in the brain that relay the necessary information regarding sensations (such as pain) and external stimuli. Therefore, with acupuncture, the pain tolerance of the individual is increased.
For some individuals, just one simple treatment can help to offer relief from chronic pain. One small study revealed that for some individuals with fibromyalgia, acupuncture therapy increased their quality of life and decreased their pain. However, more research is necessary to learn more about the effectiveness of this treatment for fibromyalgia.
Another ancient Chinese practice is Tai Chi. It is the physical practice in which the body is slowly and gently moved and has shown potential to help ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
In one of the studies individuals participate in 60-minute tai chi classes or a 60-minute wellness education/stretching class twice weekly for a period of 12 weeks.
Those who were participating in the tai chi classes reported improvements in their depression, overall quality of life, improvements in quality of sleep, and less pain.
Manual Lymph Drainage
Massage is a great way to treat the pain of fibromyalgia. One of the specific types of massage is manual lymph drainage therapy, or MLDT.
This particular massage helps to move the fluid in your lymphatic system through your body. Your lymphatic system helps your body to get rid of toxins and waste, but relies on the movement of your muscles to remain efficient.
Rhythmic movements stimulate the flow of blood, which can loosen up the blockages in the lymphatic system that can cause you pain.
One study in 2009 tested the MLDT therapy on a group of women that had been given the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Those women were given treatment five times a week for three solid weeks.
The results proved that MLDT was much more effective than a regular massage for helping to reduce anxiety and tiredness. However, you should know that both of the therapies did offer an improvement on overall quality of life and pain management.
Chiropractic Care for Treating Fibromyalgia
Among the most common complementary or alternative therapies for treating the condition of fibromyalgia is chiropractic care.
Individuals with this condition use chiropractic care to treat pain related to their pressure points, shoulder pain, neck pain, headaches, musculoskeletal pain, and even back pain.
Experts say that chiropractic care is considered to be an effective treatment for the condition of fibromyalgia because it can help to reduce the pain related to the condition as well as increase range of motion in the cervical and lumbar spine.
At the very basis of chiropractic care is that the body is able to heal itself. In order to increase that healing and reduce pain, a chiropractor will make some adjustments to the spine.
The whole goal of chiropractic care is to increase the mobility between the vertebrae, which have- over time- become locked, out of position, or restricted.
Chiropractors make these adjustments by using their hands. By using gentle stretching or pressure, several gentle movements in one specific area, or even high-velocity thrusts, these adjustments will be able to return the bones to their normal position and/or motion.
By returning them to their natural position and/or motion, the individual experiences relief from their pain and a reduction in illnesses.
As you can see, fibromyalgia is a condition that doesn’t really have any clear-cut, obvious signs and symptoms. While the condition is most common in adult women, it can also affect men, children and teens.
In most cases, children and teens will be diagnosed somewhere between the ages of 13 to 15. Adult women are much more likely to be diagnosed with the condition between the ages of 25 to 60.
Women are ten times more likely to be given this diagnosis than men and there are 12 million Americans that are suffering from this condition.
When you try to explain your condition, some people may doubt that you are really sick and may just think that you’re trying to get out of doing things.
Because of this, the condition of fibromyalgia is often called the “invisible illness”- the symptoms are not visible.
However, don’t lose hope. The truth is that researchers are still in the beginning stages of finding answers to the questions related to fibromyalgia. What causes it? What are the symptoms? What are the effective treatments?
If the standard medical treatments are not working for you, please speak with your physician- get a second opinion if you need to- but just make sure that you are heard!
Consider adding alternative therapies such as massage, yoga, or even meditation to your other treatments to see if that helps at all.
In addition, consider adding herbal supplements to your routine- but consult your physician before doing so, just in case there are interactions with specific medications.