According to the Merck Manual, fibromyalgia is among the most common conditions that cause musculoskeletal pain (second only to osteoarthritis). Symptoms range from an achy feeling to severe pain. Additional symptoms include pain or tenderness that increases with fatigue, cognitive problems (memory and concertation), irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and depression, and tender spots on the body that do not turn red and are not accompanied by warmth or swelling (these symptoms would indicate the pain is due to another condition).
What is fibromyalgia? How is the overall life a person dealing with this debilitating condition affected? Is there any proof that fibromyalgia symptoms can be resolved naturally? Please read this comprehensive discussion of a chronic pain condition that affects millions of people around the world.
Obtaining a Fibromyalgia Diagnosis Is Difficult
Dealing with fibromyalgia can be difficult. Diagnosis can be a lengthy process. According to the Fibromyalgia Global Impact Survey that was published in Paris, France in 2008, diagnosis times in the 8 countries survey ranged from about 7 months in Korea to upwards of three and a half years in Spain. Patients averaged seeing between 2 and 5 doctors to get an official diagnosis. That time has to be added to the average length of time a patient deals with pain before going to the doctor which ranged from an average of 4.6 months in the UK to 18 months in Mexico. All this difficulty in getting a diagnosis existed despite patients averaging between six and 11 symptoms.
The Impact of Fibromyalgia on a Patient’s Quality of Life
One of the biggest aspects of life that are affected for a fibromyalgia sufferer is the ability to work. The global survey mentioned above also revealed that between 15 and 29% of fibromyalgia sufferers could not work due to the condition. Another 21-35% said that the amount they could work was limited by their health. In Spain, one-third of migraine patients had lost a job due to the condition, and the figures were only a little better in the other seven nations. Many patients regularly called in sick, and their employers were either not understanding of chronic health conditions or could not afford to employ someone who consistently missed work days.
Increased cost of health care is another major concern for fibromyalgia patients. Even in European nations that were part of the survey, between 42 and 64% of responders said they spent a lot of money on medical care beyond what insurance covered. In Mexico, 79% were paying a great deal out-of-pocket.
In several countries, at least 80% of responders said that their overall quality of life was affected by fibromyalgia. Particular aspects of life that were affected in the majority of patients included:
- Physical Mobility – Pain led to reduced activity.
- Overall Mood – Depression and anxiety are common among fibromyalgia patients.
- Motivation and Drive – The factors are also related to depression.
- Concentration and Memory – Patients often refer to these cognitive difficulties as fibro fog.
Fibromyalgia, the CNS, and Pain Centralization
While the exact cause of fibromyalgia has not been determined, researchers agree that the pain originates in the brain and spinal cord rather than the bones, joints, and muscles themselves. But this does not mean the pain is “in the person’s head.” Rather, it confirms that fibromyalgia is a real condition resulting from the central sensitization of pain in the body. What is central sensitization?
Central sensitization (or pain sensitization) refers to the process that takes place within the body when an emergency situation is encountered. For example, if you inadvertently lean up against a hot stove, your body responds by ramping up pain levels to get you to move away from the source of danger as quickly as possible. Under normal circumstances, pain levels quickly return to normal after the source of danger is removed. IF the injury is very serious, a sense of shock may set in and actually dampen the pain. However, researchers believe that with fibromyalgia patients the central nervous system maintains this state of “wind-up,” thereby resulting in an increased pain response from little to no stimuli. What the average person may detect as a mere touch, a fibromyalgia patient may sense as a severely painful event. This can affect personal relationships among other aspects of life.
An Explanation for the Failure of Pain Medications
It has been well documented that pain medication usually fails to help fibromyalgia patients. According to researchers, the concept of central sensitization explains why opioids are not effective in treating this condition. These drugs, along with other narcotic analgesics, do nothing to reduce the brain’s neurotransmitter activity. Therefore, these drugs cannot reduce the effects of pain centralization.
What Can Help Central Sensitization of Pain?
Central sensitization helps explain why things such as stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, trauma, lack of sleep, cold temperatures, or being told that your condition is all in your mind are all triggers for flare-ups. These environmental stressors, both physical and emotional, only enhance the effects of pain centralization. On the other hand, this also helps clarify why certain habits can help to relieve pain. For example:
- Light to moderate exercise/stretching – Becoming sedentary adds to fatigue, insomnia, and joint pain. Light to moderate stretching or exercises such as walking or swimming can help reduce the body’s response to pain.
- A regular sleep schedule – Some studies have revealed that with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy, patients have been able to get more sleep and thereby reduce pain levels.
- Stress management – Reducing stress is vital for patients dealing with central sensitization. Some have turned to meditation or taken up hobbies to cope with stress successfully.
- Upper cervical alignment – The alignment of the top bones of the spine can play a role in central sensitization through brainstem function, vertebral blood flow, and cerebrospinal fluid drainage.
Let’s take a closer look at why upper cervical alignment is an important way to deal with central sensitization.
How Upper Cervical Alignment Relates to Fibromyalgia
As has been noted in the research above, fibromyalgia is a condition of the central nervous system (CNS). Therefore, anything that can affect how the CNS operates needs to be considered as part of patient care. Here are three ways that upper cervical alignment is related to fibromyalgia.
- Brainstem Function – The C1 and C2 vertebrae protect the brainstem where it meets the spinal cord. This is the freeway for communication throughout the body. If a misalignment causes pressure, this can lead to CNS issues and potentially central sensitization.
- Vertebral Blood Flow – The cervical vertebrae play a key role in facilitating blood flow via the vertebral foramen. These openings only exist in the upper cervical vertebrae and provide a means for the vertebral arteries to provide the brain with blood and oxygen. A misalignment can inhibit this proper blood flow. Reduced blood flow to the part of the brain that provides a response to pain has been noted in fibromyalgia patients.
- Cerebrospinal Fluid Drainage – Using an upright MRI, researchers have noted that upper cervical misalignments can lead to reduced cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) drainage. The result can be pooling of CSF and increased intracranial The same research revealed that correcting the misalignment can reduce the pooling and the pressure that it causes.
Let’s take a closer look at a case study in which upper cervical chiropractic was used to correct an upper cervical misalignment in a fibromyalgia patient. In light of what we’ve discussed thus far, the resulting benefits may come as little surprise.
A Case Study Involving Upper Cervical Chiropractic and Fibromyalgia
An interesting case was presented in the Journal of Upper Cervical Chiropractic Research. It was about a 45-year-old female who had fibromyalgia. She complained of migraine headaches, pain throughout her back, neck pain, sciatica, depression, duodenal ulcer, numbness in her fingers, and right knee pain.
Her history revealed that when she was 15 years old, she had a traumatic head injury from diving into a shallow pool. Over the next 25 years, she was in a total of 10 car accidents. Her doctor diagnosed her with fibromyalgia. She endured another injury five years later, falling down a flight of stairs. This increased her pain.
She found temporary relief over a 12-year period by seeing general chiropractors. However, she was still in pain and suffering from depression. She was prescribed Flexeril, Soma, and Vicodin. It was impossible for her to climb stairs, walk more than 20 feet, or swim. She ended up using a wheelchair to help her complete her daily tasks and conserve energy.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Helps Ease Fibromyalgia Symptoms
The above-mentioned patient sought out the care of an upper cervical chiropractor. Here are her results:
Her first re-evaluation revealed that her left leg sciatica and fibromyalgia had completely resolved. She was able to perform daily functions and sleep comfortably. She felt relaxed and had more energy. She no longer took any prescription drugs.
Her headaches and constant back pain were resolved by her second evaluation.
At her fifth evaluation, six months later, her knee pain had gone away. She reported no longer needing to use a wheelchair. She was able to do house and yard work, and she could swim, stand for long periods of time, and walk distances without the aid of medication.
This shows how helpful seeking the care of an upper cervical chiropractor can be. But can fibromyalgia really be completely reversed?
Complete Resolution of Fibromyalgia Via Upper Cervical Care
An even more telling case study was conducted with a 32-year-old woman whose fibromyalgia was causing severe pain and fatigue as well as depression. Chiropractic care began two years after the onset of the condition.
Over the course of six months, the patient was evaluated 41 times. At eight of those visits, an upper cervical subluxation was noted upon examination and subsequently corrected using an upper cervical technique. With what result?
At the end of just six months, the patient reported that her fibromyalgia symptoms had completely resolved!
Before you are ready to give upper cervical chiropractic a try, you may want to learn more about the adjustments themselves, especially if you have had a bad experience with general chiropractic in the past. Let’s address these understandable concerns.
Learn More About Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care
Upper cervical chiropractors differ from general chiropractors in that we focus our attention on the upper two bones of the vertebrae. A person with head or neck trauma may likely have a misalignment here. This causes the central nervous system to malfunction and can lead to central sensitization as has been noted above. What are some further contrasts between upper cervical and general chiropractic? Here are three important things you should know about upper cervical care:
- Gentle Adjustments – Upper cervical chiropractic methods involve low-force corrections, either performed by hand or by chiropractic instruments. These gentle adjustments produce long-lasting results and give the body the time in needs to heal. There is no popping, twisting, or forcing of the spine as in general chiropractic, which patients with chronic pain conditions often appreciate.
- Precision Adjustments – Upper cervical chiropractors use a combination of modern diagnostic imaging and physical examination to provide an extremely precise measurement of the degree of misalignment. This allows for a more precise adjustment that is, once again, both gentle and long-lasting.
- As-Needed Adjustments – Because adjustments are precise and long-lasting, many patients find that they can gradually go longer and longer between visits. Adjustments are only provided as-needed, so once your atlas and axis begin to hold, you can get checked less frequently. This makes upper cervical chiropractic a cost-effective form of care – something very welcome to fibromyalgia patients who are often used to spending a fortune out-of-pocket for care.
Yes, upper cervical chiropractic care may be the low-force, precise, and cost-effective care that you have been searching for. Why not call a practitioner near you to schedule an evaluation? You may be a gentle adjustment away from starting down the path to better overall health and improved quality of life.