Fibromyalgia is a condition of chronic musculoskeletal pain that seems to worsen with activity and is often accompanied by vague but real symptoms of headaches, fatigue, excessive sleepiness, and depression. Since the American College of Rheumatology proposed a formal diagnostic criterion in 1990, fibromyalgia evaluation and treatment options continue to change. Several factors have become consistently evident:
Fibromyalgia is not an inflammatory problem or due to muscle inflammation. (This condition was called “fibromyositis” but no evidence of inflammation was found, so they changed the name to fibromyalgia. (“fibro” = fibers “my” = muscle “algia” = pain)).
Fibromyalgia is not due to tight muscles or tight fascia even though the primary method of diagnosis is through tender points.
Chronic pain of fibromyalgia is due to a change in the Central Nervous System where the signal for pain activates even though there is no tissue damage occurring. This mismatch of signals adds to the burden of fibromyalgia.
Exercise and meditation help with fibromyalgia! Regular, moderately-intense exercise and regular meditation can retrain the nervous system to raise the threshold before the “pain signal” is activated.
Other modalities such as massage therapy can provide temporary benefit. This occurs when the pressure of the therapy on the skin and the muscles raises the threshold of the pain signal.
It is important to understand that pain is the signal our Central Nervous System tells our conscious self that tissue damage is occurring. Sometimes our nervous system either indicates pain even after the body has healed or it activates the pain signal when there is no tissue damage. After a while, the nervous system begins to act as though the abnormal pain signaling is the norm . . . this can be the start of chronic pain.
The treatment options are not perfect, since they really need to get the Central Nervous System to “change its mind” and stop sending the pain signals. None of the medications for fibromyalgia do this; they artificially raise the pain threshold. For some, this works; for others, it doesn’t.
The worst thing about fibromyalgia is that those who suffer from it, begin to slow down their activities in many different realms – they stop exercising, reduce walking outside, sit down more. Though this seems appropriate, this is the “deception of fibromyalgia” making them think they need to act hurt or injured; it allows the abnormal pain signal even more opportunity to change their Central Nervous System.
Exercise and meditation are the foundation of all fibromyalgia treatments because exercise and meditation are the only way to naturally retrain your nervous system. All other forms of treatment should be viewed as assisting you in making exercise and meditation easier. So the purpose of massage is to open an opportunity for your body to continue to exercise.
Do you have fibromyalgia? How would you describe it? How does it affect you?