Patients with fibromyalgia have to cope with daily, chronic pain. While are there many medications on the market, there are alternative, non-medical interventions. Chiropractors can help patients manage their discomfort in a natural way. Fibromyalgia is a disorder where a patient suffers from “long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues”. The causes are not agreed upon, but some theories are that fibromyalgia is a result of certain triggers such as: sleep disturbances, infection, abnormal bodily pain response, or physical/emotional trauma. Women suffer from this more than men, and the disorder may be diagnosed most often between the ages of 20-50.1 Symptoms can include chronic pain and spasms in the muscles, severe fatigue, insomnia, memory and concentration issues, digestive and bladder problems, sensory issues and sensitivity, anxiety, and depression. The intensity of the symptoms can vary throughout the day and with weather, exertion, hormones, or emotional factors.2
Fibromyalgia is diagnosed after three months of pain, with the pain spread throughout the body, after doctors have run tests to rule out other diseases or conditions. Traditional medical treatments may include exercise programs, stress relief, relaxation and massage, and physical therapy. There are also cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT) as well as medications that doctors may prescribe, including antidepressants and muscle relaxers, and a few new fibromyalgia-specific drugs: Cymbalta, Lyrica, and Savella. Doctors may also recommend pain relievers, sleep aids, and anti-seizure drugs to go along with the CBT. Of course, improving mood, keeping a pain diary, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding caffeine are also recommended.3
Even with all of the traditional interventions, and running the risk of medication side-effects, fibromyalgia can still be a chronic disorder that can last for years. Chiropractors may also recommend dietary changes and exercises to their patients. The medical causes of fibromyalgia are not agreed upon, and while there are psychological factors, it appears that the “pain in fibromyalgia reflects abnormal pain processing in the central nervous system”. Tender points of the body include the front and back of the neck, the second rib, the elbow and knee areas, the shoulders, and the gluteal and hip areas.4 A 2006 study showed that “connective tissue manipulation and combined ultrasound (US) therapy (US and high-voltage pulsed galvanic stimulation)” helped fibromyalgia patients in their complaints about pain and sleep. These therapies seemed helpful in restoring “functional activities” in these patients.5 Another study, in 2007, examined the effectiveness of chiropractic with fibromyalgia and concluded that there was improvement in the “patients’ cervical and lumbar ranges of motion, straight leg raise and reported pain levels”.6 Chiropractic management can be explored as a natural alternative, or complementary, treatment for this long-term disorder.
Other Treatment Options
Massage therapy is one alternative treatment option for fibromyalgia, and it has been found to be one of the most effective treatment options. Massage increases circulation of the blood to the muscles, it increases flexibility and range of motion, and the patient will experience decreased stress and depression. Massage also reduced pain and stiffness. One study found a significant decrease in pain symptoms when the patients received “just ten, 30-minute massage sessions”. The patients’ sleep patterns were affected as well, and they started to sleep for longer periods of time while being less disturbed by sleep disorders. Each therapist might use different massage techniques, from Swedish to deep tissue massage. The myofascial release technique is used to relieve the stiffness and tightness in the fascia that is caused by myofascial pain. “The fascia is a thin layer of tissue that covers all of your muscles and organs”. Fibromyalgia often causes the fascia to become short and tense, which causes the pain. Myofascial release uses stretching techniques to relax the fascia and stop the pain.7 Acupuncture is another alternative treatment option. One study has shown that patients who received six treatments of acupuncture over a 2-3-week period reported having less fatigue and fewer anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture is supposed to release endorphins to block the pain caused by fibromyalgia and help the patient build up their own pain tolerance over time. Research is still unclear in this area, and further studies are needed.8 Yoga is a third alternative treatment option. A study performed over the course of eight weeks on 53 women who had all been diagnosed with fibromyalgia showed the differences between those who took yoga classes and those who received standard treatment. The yoga group performed “40 minutes of gentle stretching poses, 25 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of breathing techniques” in addition to practicing some yoga at home. It was found that those in the yoga program had significantly improved when it came to their levels of pain, mood, fatigue, and other symptoms. The engagement in activities despite the pain taught the patients how to cope with their pain and relax. This does not mean pushing oneself too hard is the answer, but doing some guided yoga through tolerable pain levels might be.9