The pain of fibromyalgia causes you to have all-over achiness in the muscles and joints of your body. This pain may be present no matter what medication you’ve taken or the level of activity you’ve had. Fibromyalgia sufferers might feel as if their body was just put through a challenging workout even though they feel like they barely have the energy to start their day, let alone work out rigorously.
Aside from the well-known pain of fibromyalgia, the condition also has other symptoms that are commonly present. These include sleep difficulties, restless leg syndrome, problems with digestion, and cognitive changes. Oftentimes what’s worse is that no matter how much rest or self-care is gotten, symptoms may not ease up.
Pain Perception and Fibromyalgia
The science behind pain perception is a bit complicated, especially for those suffering from fibromyalgia. In a simplified sense, multiple types of nerve endings that are present in your skin sense input from the environment around them. The can sense if something is cold, hot, heavy, sharp, or otherwise painful. These types of painful input are converted into nerve signals that make their way over different nerve pathways to the spinal cord and brain (your central nervous system- CNS). Areas of your CNS interpret those signals as different types of pain – aching, throbbing, sharp, dull, etc. It is also the job of the CNS to transmit signals to help your body to avoid the painful stimulus – for example, if you touch a hot iron, your brain will perceive that as burning and cause you to pull your hand quickly away.
For people with a fibromyalgia diagnosis, research suggests that there might be some sort of glitch or irregularity in the way that pain signals are processed. This irregularity can result in having a body that is overly sensitive to stimuli that would not normally be perceived as being painful. Research has shown that fibromyalgia sufferers might have a reduction in blood flow to the areas of the brain that are normally responsible for helping the body deal with pain.
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Fatigue and Fibromyalgia
Fatigue, sometimes severe, affects the majority of fibromyalgia sufferers. This is especially problematic, since fibromyalgia notoriously causes sleep disturbances, leading to a vicious cycle of needing sleep but not being able to rest consistently. Sleep and fatigue problems can include:
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
- Inability to sleep due to pain
- Lack of deep (slow wave) sleep
- Reduced REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
Because of the associated fatigue, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are often confused with one another. While there is definitely some symptom overlap between the two conditions, the fatigue associated with fibromyalgia is often secondary to the widespread pain that is experienced.
Brain Fog and Fibromyalgia
Changes in cognition are so common with fibromyalgia that they’ve been given their own name – fibro fog. These changes, which can be very frustrating to cope with, can include difficulty concentrating, short-term memory problems, becoming easily distracted, misplacing things, and forgetting plans. It is easy to see how these issues can have a huge impact on quality of life, especially when looking at the entire picture of fibro fog, fatigue, and pain.
Central Nervous System Care for Fibromyalgia
As more information emerges about fibromyalgia, it is becoming clear that there is a neurological component that needs to be addressed concerning the way the central nervous system processes pain. The brainstem, the part of your central nervous system that acts as a switchboard for pain processing and the relaying of other vital information concerning your body’s function, is protected by a vertebra called the atlas. The atlas is uniquely shaped for two reasons:
- To hold up the weight of your head
- To give your head the ability to move freely in all directions
Because the atlas has such a unique shape and function, it can be more susceptible to misaligning following an injury, trauma, or wear and tear. Interestingly, it is after a stressful event, illness, or injury that many cases of fibromyalgia develop. This upper cervical misalignment can cause irritation and insult to the central nervous system and interfere with its ability to function normally.
This is the way that upper cervical chiropractic approaches care for our fibromyalgia patients – we seek to optimize central nervous system function by addressing spinal misalignments that can have a negative impact. If an upper cervical misalignment is present, then it could be playing a part in abnormal pain processing, brain fog, and fatigue that is associated with fibromyalgia. Correcting an atlas misalignment should be done in a very specific way. Just as no two fibromyalgia cases are alike, no two upper cervical misalignments are alike. This necessitates a very individualized approach to adjusting, which is exactly what we provide at Balanced Living Chiropractic. Each of our patients goes through a thorough intake process which leads to the customization of an adjustment that is right for them.
Taking the time to get to know each of our patients individually and crafting an adjustment that best meets the needs of their body is part of the reason why we see such promising results for our fibromyalgia patients. Once normal alignment is achieved, the goal of upper cervical care is to allow your body to heal and hold that alignment for as long as possible. This yields the best possible outcomes, allowing for the reduction or resolution of fibromyalgia symptoms.
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