Part of what makes fibromyalgia such a difficult condition to both live with and care for is that it usually comes along with a host of other health problems that make things feel much worse. Some of the conditions that fibromyalgia sufferers often have to deal with can include:
- Neck or back pain
- Migraines or tension headaches
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMJD
- Digestive conditions like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Painful menstrual cycles and endometriosis
- Endocrine disorders, including thyroid conditions
- Restless legs syndrome
- Memory problems
- Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety
- Sleep problems, insomnia, and sleep apnea
Reading down that list, it becomes easy to understand that fibromyalgia is about much more than a “simple” pain disorder.
There are no laboratory tests or other methods to make a definitive diagnosis of fibromyalgia. However, despite the belief that fibromyalgia is a default or “catchall” diagnosis when there is no other explanation, there are actually established diagnostic factors that your doctor should be looking for:
- Multiple painful areas of the body, including areas on both sides and above/below the waist
- Associated symptoms including fatigue, concentration problems, and poor sleep
- Symptoms that have persisted for at least 3 months
- Lack of any other underlying health condition or explanation for these symptoms
What You Can Do to Start Feeling Better
We know that it can be difficult (or on some days feel almost impossible) to want to exercise when you experience chronic pain. However, research and experience show that regular, gentle exercise is one of the best things you can do when you live with fibromyalgia. Starting small, like walking to your mailbox and back, and slowly building up to getting at least 30 minutes of movement in daily can help to reduce pain, fatigue, and even help you to sleep better at night. Some good suggestions on where to start if you don’t already have your favorite go-to exercises can include going to a yoga or tai-chi class, taking a walk around the neighborhood, riding a stationary bike, or swimming some laps in the pool.
Set yourself up for sleep success:
Getting good quality, restorative sleep can be one of the biggest challenges for fibromyalgia sufferers. In order to set yourself up to get the best night of sleep possible, making the following changes to your bedtime routine might help:
- Avoid screen-time in the hour or two before bedtime. Light from your television, tablet, or phone can stimulate your brain and interfere with your ability to “wind down”
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Eliminate or try to cover up any artificial light sources such as LED lights from modems, alarm clocks, and other electronics. You can even try blackout curtains to block out light coming in through your bedroom window at night. Lastly, set your thermostat nice and cool – sleep experts recommend a range of 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit as ideal.
- Don’t eat your last meal of the day too close to bedtime. Having dinner too late will stimulate the digestive process which can prevent you from being able to fall and stay asleep. In addition, avoiding foods that are too spicy or drinks/desserts that contain caffeine (I.e. coffee and/or chocolate) will give you the best odds at getting a good night of rest.
- Keep a regular sleep-wake routine. By going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day (yes, even on weekends) will help set your body’s internal clock and regulate your circadian rhythm.
Take care of your central nervous system:
If you just had to choose one change to make immediately, caring for your central nervous system (CNS) might yield the greatest impact on how your body is able to heal and function. The more that is understood about the mechanisms behind fibromyalgia, the more it’s shown that the root of the problem lies within the central nervous system with the way the body is able to sense and interpret pain signals. The area of your CNS that plays a major role in this process is the brainstem, which connects the brain to the spinal cord as it exits from the base of your skull.
Caring for this exact area of the CNS is the focus of upper cervical chiropractors. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a very special niche within the greater chiropractic profession that takes a thorough look at nervous system function and how specific misalignments of the vertebra that surrounds the brainstem can have a negative impact on function. Fibromyalgia sufferers have been responding extremely well to upper cervical care, and several case studies have shown a reduction or even complete resolution of fibromyalgia symptoms. It makes perfect sense given that one of the major goals of upper cervical care is to restore normal nervous system function, which includes the regulation of common fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain, cognitive function, and sleep difficulties.
Upper cervical misalignments can happen as a result of an accident (I.e. car accident or sports injury), or occur with wear and tear over time. In fact, many fibromyalgia sufferers can usually recall some kind of head or neck injury in their past that could have been the cause of an initial atlas misalignment. Because adjustments are crafted for each individual, they are gentle, precise, and designed to hold in place for as long as possible, maximizing the benefit that patients realize from them. To learn more about upper cervical chiropractic care, its unique approach, and its many benefits, schedule a consultation with a practitioner in your community.