Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that continues to affect the everyday life of the average person. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that fibromyalgia affects around 2% of the adult population in the United States (1). Additionally, separate statistics have found that it may affect around 10 million people in the United States. The condition is also more common in women between the ages of 30 and 50.
What exactly is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by pain, a lot of it. The condition causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue in the muscles at multiple tender points in the body. These areas include the following:
- the neck
- upper back
- upper chest
- low back
- hips and
Fibromyalgia is a commonly under-diagnosed disorder. A lot of people believe that the new mysterious body pain is simply a sign of aging. This is, unfortunately, not the case. Other symptoms associated with the painful condition include:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- restless leg syndrome
- numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- poor concentration
- painful menstrual periods and
- heightened sensitivity to odors, noises, bright lights, and touch.
So who is more likely to suffer from fibromyalgia?
Well, doctors are, as yet, not completely certain as to what causes the often debilitating condition. However, being female and having a history of rheumatoid arthritis may increase your risk. Additional risks factors include;
- genetic predisposition,
- hypersensitivity to pain
- stress and
- nervous system trauma
What’s more, a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found a potential link between fibromyalgia pain and lower levels of serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for regulating mood, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and pain perception. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, so the chemical is used in the form of antidepressant drugs. In fact, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, a class of antidepressant drugs used to inhibit the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine, are regularly used for chronic pain management (2).
Fibromyalgia treatment plans
Doctors are not completely sure what causes fibromyalgia. So, it’s particularly hard to treat. In fact, some doctors often dismiss patients because they are unable to fathom what’s causing them so much pain, especially in the absence of inflammation and any obvious physical injury. At this point, the standard form of treatment for fibromyalgia includes painkillers and antidepressants. This is done to relieve the patient of symptoms like pain, fatigue, and depression. However, recent reports believe that medicinal treatments are not only often ineffective, but they also come with potentially dangerous side effects.
The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, thus there is a growing need to find alternatives to prescription painkillers. Side effects associated with painkillers include:
- Constipation and most concerning of all,
- Physical dependence.
Therefore, the suggestion is to combine medicinal treatments with other types of non-drug therapies.
There is no official cure for fibromyalgia. However, home remedies may serve to alleviate symptoms. Whilst we discuss these remedies below, it’s important to remember one thing. Patients should seek supportive doctors who understand fibromyalgia and who can offer valid treatment options.
Alternative treatments for fibromyalgia symptoms
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a natural amino acid that helps the body produce serotonin. As mentioned, low levels of serotonin have been associated with chronic aches and pains.
The World Health Organization recommends acupuncture for the treatment of a number of different conditions.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb. These are herbs that help to maintain overall health by regulating the body’s stress levels. In doing so, they may help to manage chronic pain.
According to a small study published in the Journal of Ayurveda Integrated Medicine, ashwagandha possesses anti-inflammatory effects, and participants who were given 250 milligrams daily reportedly experienced a significant reduction in pain.
If you’re battling fibromyalgia pain, the last thing you want to do is move your body around. However, doing so builds muscle strength and this helps to improve symptoms of pain and stiffness.
While there have yet to be studies that specify which exercise is perfect for people with fibromyalgia, one review found that regular aerobic exercise, such as swimming and walking, helps to improve quality of life.
Sleep is paramount to a healthy quality of life. So, anything that compromises it can be quite detrimental to one’s health. Fibromyalgia can cause restless sleep and insomnia.
While magnesium supplements have been linked to improving the number of tender points in fibromyalgia patients, the mineral may also serve to improve sleep health. According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, magnesium supplements helped to improve both insomnia and the quality of sleep in the participants after each of them was given 500 milligrams of magnesium daily for eight weeks.
For those who don’t have access to magnesium supplements, you can increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, almonds, banana, and pumpkin seeds.
A good, old massage may help people with fibromyalgia better manage their symptoms.
While they may not provide any long-term benefits in people with fibromyalgia, massage therapy has been proven to offer immediate benefits for patients with fibromyalgia by improving symptoms of pain, depression, and anxiety (6).
Meditation may help alleviate fibromyalgia discomfort by changing the way your brain processes pain signals.
The practice helps to calm the mind and put the body at ease. This action, according to reports, may serve to help the body heal itself.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that encourages one to focus their attention on experiences occurring in the present moment. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, women who participated in mindfulness experienced improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that involves moving your body slowly and gently through a series of poses. It can have a beneficial effect on the body.
Whilst it’s mostly encouraged for older individuals looking to maintain their physical fitness and reduce their risk of falling, tai chi may also help manage fibromyalgia symptoms. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, participants with fibromyalgia who took part in a 60-minute tai chi class twice a week for 12 weeks reportedly noticed significant improvements in pain, sleep quality, depression, and overall quality of life.
S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) is an amino acid that the body naturally produces. It helps to maintain the levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. As previously mentioned, low levels of serotonin may be linked to fibromyalgia.
SAMe is also available as a dietary supplement and while it is not a prescription medicine for fibromyalgia, studies believe it may alleviate some fibromyalgia symptoms. According to a study published in the journal Rheumatology, SAMe supplements may help relieve pain, morning stiffness, and fatigue.
As mentioned, living some form of an active lifestyle and staying physically fit may ease any fibromyalgia discomfort.
According to a small study published in the Journal of Pain Research, women with fibromyalgia who took 75-minute yoga classes twice a week for eight weeks reportedly experienced less pain, improved cognitive functioning, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Research into fibromyalgia is still in its early stages and living with chronic pain can cause significant emotional distress. Therefore, it’s understandable why individuals battling the disorder often seek out alternative therapies to help better manage their condition. Also, what works for one person may not work for the next.
If you are leaning towards using supplements, it’s important to also consult your doctor before you do anything else. This is because some supplements may interfere with your prescription medications. Lastly, always talk to your supportive doctor before trying out any new complementary therapies you’re looking to try out.
Chronic pain can take a toll on your mental health. As a result, you may find yourself pulling away from your friends and family members. It’s important that you do not find yourself living a lonely life. Maintain a healthy relationship with open communication with a counselor or loved one who understands your predicament.