Fibromyalgia impacts as many as 4 million Americans age 18 and older. Although the most common age range of diagnosis is between 35 and 45 years old, most fibromyalgia sufferers have had chronic pain and other symptoms that started much earlier in life. The hallmark symptoms of fibromyalgia include long-term diffuse pain, extreme tiredness, cognitive or memory problems (“fibro fog”), headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression or anxiety.
Fibromyalgia is perhaps one of the most widely misunderstood conditions out there, so we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 misconceptions we’ve heard in order to shed more light on the disorder:
- “It’s all in your head.” This is probably the top misconception when it comes to understanding fibromyalgia. Although current research has helped to shed a lot of light on the condition, some people still might think that fibromyalgia is not a legitimate medical concern. People who have fibromyalgia experience pain differently than those without. Their brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) processes pain signals abnormally, making it a very real physiological problem.
- Only women develop fibromyalgia. While it’s certainly true that fibromyalgia disproportionately affects women, men can have fibromyalgia as well. Women make up between 75% and 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers. Men may not be as susceptible to developing the condition, but that might be complicated by the fact that men may not report their pain causing their condition to go undiagnosed.
- Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are the same thing. The fatigue associated with fibromyalgia can definitely be severe, however it is not the same as experiencing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Many CFS sufferers do not have any pain at all, making the two conditions very different.
- Fibromyalgia sufferers should avoid exercise. This misconception likely stems from the fact that movement often increases the pain that fibromyalgia sufferers experience. On the surface, it would make sense that avoiding movement might help bring relief. However, fibromyalgia sufferers actually benefit greatly from gentle exercise. Movement can help to loosen achy joints and muscles if done properly. It is important to start slowly and work up to a daily routine in order to manage pain.
- There are no effective treatment options for fibromyalgia so I just need to learn to live with it. As more is understood about fibromyalgia, better ways of caring for the condition are emerging. Learning how to relax, as difficult as it might be, can be of great help to those suffering from fibromyalgia. Meditation and deep breathing techniques, yoga and other forms of gentle exercise like walking, and developing healthy sleep habits help immensely when it comes to day-to-day pain and fatigue. There are, of course, medications that can also help to provide temporary symptomatic relief. Additionally, many fibromyalgia sufferers are finding great results with upper cervical chiropractic care by addressing areas of compromise within the central nervous system that might be interfering with normal pain processing.
Understanding Pain Processing
People with fibromyalgia experience a heightened sensitivity to pain. What this means is that something that may ordinarily be perceived as a non-painful stimulus (such as putting a hand on someone’s shoulder) would be perceived as very painful by someone with fibromyalgia. Pain processing is the job of your body’s central nervous system (CNS), which is comprised of your brain and spinal cord. When our body comes into contact with something that causes pain, such as a hot iron or the edge of a knife, the affected body part transmits that signal to the central nervous system to be received by the brain. Once the brain processes that signal the appropriate response can be taken, such as quickly pulling your hand away from the hot iron.
Pain signals can go awry and be misinterpreted if there is a problem within the central nervous system. In many cases, CNS function can be disturbed because of a misalignment of the very bones that are supposed to protect it – the vertebrae of your spinal column. This is especially true when looking at the uppermost vertebra in your spine, the atlas. The atlas protects your brainstem, and your brainstem acts as a relay station for pain signals. If the atlas misaligns, it can influence how your body perceives and experiences pain.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Addresses the Root Cause
Rather than fleeting, temporary relief, upper cervical chiropractic care aims to address the root cause of fibromyalgia by optimizing CNS function. The way we do this is through very specifically designed and delivered adjustments to the atlas. If an atlas misalignment is hindering normal pain signal processing, then it must be corrected in order for the body to heal. Upper cervical chiropractic care is different in that our adjustments are tailored to each individual’s needs and given only when needed. This allows for long-lasting corrections which leads to lasting resolution of symptoms.
This is an often-overlooked factor when it comes to approaching care for fibromyalgia patients, and one that has been able to help many suffering people. Correcting an underlying issue such as an atlas misalignment can help to restore your body’s capability to function normally. This can translate into more energy, better sleep, less pain, and a better overall quality of life.