May is Fibromyalgia Awareness Month. Sometimes awareness months are just gimmicks. But in the case of fibromyalgia, having an awareness month could help to shed light on a widely misunderstood condition. Nobody has been able to pin down the cause of it, and although it affects about 2% of the adult population, there are still some around who doubt its very existence. That should come as no surprise, because even the medical community is imprecise about it.
Here, for example, is how you might get diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Your doctor determines whether you have widespread pain in at least four of the body’s five general regions. If so, they check whether the pain has persisted for at least three months. If so, they give you a battery of blood tests. If the blood tests don’t turn up any explanation for your pain, they say you have fibromyalgia.
The CDC lists fibromyalgia as a type of arthritis. But I suspect that classification sounds more scientific than it is. I don’t mean to trivialize it, because arthritis is a serious condition for people who suffer from it. But medically, “arthritis” seems to be kind of a catch-all. It is primarily a condition affecting the joints, but the term comprises over 100 different medical conditions (including fibromyalgia). According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis sometimes leads to fibromyalgia. So there’s some sort of relationship between arthritis and fibromyalgia, but that relationship doesn’t say very much about either of the conditions.
For treatment of fibromyalgia, a doctor usually prescribes medication: pain relievers, antidepressants, and antiseizure drugs. People suffering from fibromyalgia may also get some relief, and even empowerment, from lifestyle changes. Some of the lifestyle factors that sufferers have reported success with include diet, yoga, acupuncture, physical therapy, and exercise. The Healthline site has a fairly comprehensive list of strategies. If you’re an active person, you probably already knew that exercise provides pain relief, provided you feel well enough to do it.
If you have fibromyalgia, you need to take an active role in managing it. That means finding a doctor who is well-informed on it (and who takes it seriously). And there are lots of resources on the web for advice and support. Start with International Support Fibromyalgia Network, which calls itself Support Fibro. Support Fibro runs educational and support programs for patients and medical providers as well as advocacy programs.
There are also strategies here at Peak Recovery & Health Center that may be useful in managing a case of fibromyalgia, some of which are backed by research. In this blog post from last Fall, for example, I discussed some of the research on float therapy. And in this blog post from last summer, I discussed a study that found whole-body cryotherapy can help to reduce fibromyalgia pain. In this blog post from December 2018, I speculated on the similarity of infrared sauna to a Japanese technique called Waon therapy, which has been clinically proved to reduce pain.
Scientists still have a great deal to learn and explain about fibromyalgia. But the most important thing to know about it is that its sufferers are in pain. Managing pain is something we know quite a bit about here at Peak. If you know someone with fibromyalgia, you could be doing them a favor by pointing them in this direction.
Image: “File:Sagittal-coronal-and-axial-sections-of-regions-of-gray-matter-reduction-in-fibromyalgia-compared-with-normal-controls-a.jpg” by Chemin Lin, Shwu-Hua Lee, Hsu-Huei Weng is licensed under CC BY 4.0