by Stephanie Chambers


Fibromyalgia is a strange condition. It’s basically chronic widespread pain accompanied by fatigue, disturbed sleep and an increased sensitivity to being touched. Some also experience tingling skin, muscle spasms, weak limbs, nerve pain, palpitations, muscle twitching, bowel problems and a host of other issues. Many also experience fogginess such as an inability to concentrate, memory problems and other cognitive issues. And anxiety and depression are commonly also experienced.

Why is it hard to work out that you have it?

The pain of fibromyalgia

Doctors don't like it because there is no standardized test for it. For many years they had been using criteria devised by the Multicenter Criteria Committee of the American College of Rheumatology called "the ACR 1990" which involved 18 tender points. But this wasn't even designed to be used in clinical situation. In 2010 they revised the criteria eliminating the tender points and replacing them with a widespread pain index and a symptom severity scale. Now all that seems to matter is that you have had pain for over three months affecting all four parts of your body. But that’s only after they’ve ruled out any other diseases as being responsible for your symptoms.

It is a very common condition - affecting around 2% of the population. In the US, this is roughly 5 million adults1. It affects a lot more women than men.

Yet it can be hard to find a doctor that will actually diagnose you as having fibromyalgia. There are countless stories online of people going to multiple doctors and suffering for many years before they were even diagnosed with it.  But you know you're not a crazy person or a hypochondriac. And even though they may not say it directly they may be thinking it's all in your head and in this case it's sort of true. Research seems to indicate that it is a case of your brain playing tricks on you. Your pain threshold is far lower than normal. It’s like when a dimmer switch in your house stops working except in this case it's pain rather than light you are dealing with.

It must be hard having this disease because we have all had it drummed into us, probably via various commercials, that pain is nature’s warning. But in this case, unlike arthritis, the pain doesn’t indicate any deterioration of the joints or tissues. It’s like crying wolf. How will you know when the pain really is warning you about something going on in your body? Some people suffering from the disease find they suffer pain from being touched - either directly when it is happening or later on as a delayed reaction.

What causes your lower pain threshold?

Why is your brain making a mountain of pain out of what is often only a molehill - the slightest movement or contraction of the muscles? Unfortunately, although there have been quite a few research studies, the verdict is not yet clear. Sometimes it seems to be triggered by surgery or an accident, but sometimes there is no trigger. There is speculation that it is due to "central sensitization".  And that the lower pain threshold is because pain-sensitive nerve cells in the spinal cord or brain have become more reactive.

Some research2 has shown that people with the condition don’t have normal blood flow patterns in their brains and other research3 has shown that neurotransmitter levels are also different than normal. Some research has shown that it may have an hereditary component. Others think it is stress-related4 because a lot of people suffering from it also have stress-related disorders such as PTSD, chronic fatigue, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.

How can you treat fibromyalgia?

Just like the cause, the cure is equally unknown. But the pharmaceutical companies have, as usual, made sure the doctors have something to prescribe. In the US, they have three drugs in their arsenal. The first one - Duloxetine - was originally designed to treat depression. The second one - Milnacipran is similar to depression medications.

Fibromyalgia is associated with depression. But I think it might be a case of the chicken and the egg. Wouldn’t you feel a bit depressed or anxious if you were having to deal with constant pain?

The third drug – Pregaballin  is an anti-convulsant or anti-seizure drug and was designed to treat pain caused by damage to the nerves. It appears to reduce activity in the central nervous system. But how it reduces pain is unclear. This no doubt sounds good, but the side effects of Pregabalin are weight gain and swelling (edema), dizziness and sleepiness. This is of particular concern because a lot of fibromyalgia patients are already overweight.

Of course, some doctors also prescribe painkillers for the condition, even though it is generally recognized that these aren’t very effective for fibromyalgia pain. And, as we all know, thanks to Michael Jackson, painkillers can be addictive. Sometimes Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are prescribed even though inflammation is not a symptom of fibromyalgia.

Some doctors test for other conditions when a patients fibromyalgia worsens for no real reason. For example, they could also have Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, low cortisol production, or tooth/gum infections. Others order blood tests for vitamin B1 and B6 levels, and “total” and “free” carnitine levels to check that this isn’t adding to their fatigue.

How can you cope with the pain?

Pain thresholds vary from person to person. I think I have a fairly high tolerance for pain. When I was in my thirties, I was one of the unlucky five percent of people with psoriasis that also get psoriatic arthritis. I felt like I had just turned eighty. Every movement hurt. And my joints were very stiff in the morning. I would stumble out of bed barely able to walk. Morning joint stiffness is also experienced by some fibromyalgia sufferers as well. I was lucky in that my medical doctor was also an Ayurvedic doctor and he prescribed castor oil for my arthritis. It was amazing, after a day’s purifying the symptoms disappeared. And now when it rears it’s ugly head again, I take a day to purify with castor oil and I have so far, managed to keep it at bay. But fibromyalgia is different than arthritis. It probably isn’t mainly due to toxins building up in the joints because it isn’t localized to the joints and there is no evidence of inflammation or deterioration happening in the joints.

Lady meditating away the painWhen I go to the dentist, I generally don’t have a needle or gas when I am having a filling. I just meditate (Transcendental Meditation) while the dentist is working on me. It seems to help me cope with the pain. One time I even had root canal therapy without any painkillers, but I wouldn’t recommend this as I felt like I was in shock afterwards, so it was probably a stupid thing to do. Meditation may help people with fibromyalgia. But you can’t meditate all day long. You have to go to work, so other solutions are necessary. Some people have found that subtle vibrational therapies have worked for them. Others have found that a Vata reducing Ayurvedic diet helps. There is some evidence5 that Vitamin D can help.

Exercise appears to help

Some research that seems to have a practical application relates to exercise and fibromyalgia. A good summary of the research6 in 2011 concluded that “The benefits of exercise training for individuals with fibromyalgia are well documented in recent high-quality reviews and meta-analyses and include reduction of pain and depression and improvement in global health and physical function.” The types of exercise modalities that have been studied so far in relation to fibromyalgia include aerobic and strengthening exercises (both on land and in water), Tai Chi, Chi Gong and Yoga, Nordic Walking, vibration, and physical activity as part of a normal lifestyle.

Of course, it must be hard to make yourself exercise if you are already suffering pain (it’s hard enough for those of us that aren’t). And like any exercise regime, it would have to be implemented gradually and under a physician’s guidance. But even so, the evidence is there that the effort is worth it.

So in this sense, we can only conclude that in some respects, ignoring the pain and going ahead with normal exercise is the best approach. But should all forms of the pain be ignored? Because of the pain in relation to being touched, most people suffering this illness probably steer away from massage therapies. But maybe gentle massage could be helpful even though it hurts? I would be interested to hear if anyone suffering from this illness has found this to be the case for them.

Which essential oils have been found to help?

In terms of making this easier to proceed with a normal lifestyle, you may like to try the following essential oils which others have found beneficial for fibromyalgia:

  • Clary Sage – diluted 3–5% in any jojoba or hazelnut oil and gently applied to affected areas or diluted with water and sprayed on
  • Lavender – diluted 3–5% in a carrier oil and gently applied on sore muscles or diluted with water and sprayed on
  • Sweet Marjoram – diluted 2% in a carrier oil and gently applied on tense muscles or diluted with a cup of salt (or similar) and put in a full bath
  • Roman Chamomile – diluted 5-10% in jojoba or hazelnut oil and gently applied on painful areas.

Note: 2% dilution means 10 drops of essential oil to a tablespoon of base oil. 3-5% dilution means 15-25 drops of essential oil to a tablespoon of base oil. 5-10% dilution means 25-50 drops of essential oil to a tablespoon of base oil.

To deal with the other symptoms:

You may also like to see our page about essential oils and fibromyalgia for more details on this condition.

What has worked for you? This isn’t an easy condition to live with. We’d really appreciate it if you could share what’s helped you by posting a comment below as it may help others.

Sources:

1  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18163497

2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=7612042 and
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11145042

3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21878603

4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18270311

5 http://www.iasp-pain.org/PublicationsNews/NewsDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=2022

6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165132/

Disclaimer: The statements made in this blog have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.