Although we are becoming more aware of fibromyalgia, there is still a lot we don’t understand about it. It is classified as a functional condition, which means no structural changes are detected. That is not to say that it is by any means “made up”. Another functional condition is irritable bowel syndrome.
Symptoms of Fibromyaglia
“Myalgia” literally means muscle pain. The two main symptoms of the condition are pain and fatigue. These can be broken down into:
general musculoskeletal sensitivity
poor concentration (“fibro fog”)
Pain is not isolated to one area, instead affecting multiple limbs and the trunk. Diagnostic criteria requires pain to be present for over three months, above and below the waist, and on both sides of the body. Headaches, whether migraines or not, also commonly feature. IBS often occurs alongside fibromyalgia, although it is a separate diagnosis.
The Science of Fibromyaglia
Diagnosis can be difficult, as other conditions need to be ruled out first. Blood tests to check for inflammation, hormone imbalances, or vitamin deficiencies can be part of early investigation. There can be overlap with other painful conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms may come from nowhere, or often they follow a traumatic event or stressful period. We know that pain and stress are closely linked in general.
The condition may be underdiagnosed, but it is more commonly reported among women than men. Typically it begins between the ages of 20 and 50, but there are exceptions. Previously, diagnosis was dependent on the presence of 11 specific tender points on the body. This criteria has since been retired. Presence of tenderness in the left and right sides of the body, and above and below the waist is sufficient.
How Osteopathy Can Help
Some patients find osteopathy helps to manage their symptoms. We can use gentle treatment during appointments with the aim of desensitising the body and relaxing tight muscles. We can also give you exercises to do at home for longer term changes and as “first aid” when your symptoms flare. Aerobic exercise has been shown to have positive effects for symptoms, so we will work with you to devise a plan to increase your exercise. Fatigue and exercise don’t go too well together, but gradually increasing your activity will increase your tolerance. If pain is stopping you from being active, we can address that too. It is not uncommon for other musculoskeletal issues to occur in parallel to fibromyalgia, so we will look for other changes that might be playing a role in your pain.
Your doctor may be able to help relieve some symptoms with medication. Painkillers, as well as muscle relaxants and other drugs are often used for patients with fibromyalgia. When other conditions are also present, there may be a further need for medication, which is why testing is so important. Problems like hypothyroidism can also cause pain, so removing that factor can make a quick improvement.