Can Chiropractic Help Fibromyalgia Pain Sufferers?

Do you feel like every drop of energy is drained from your body? Do you feel like some days your body aches all over? Are there times when friends and family just don’t understand what you’re going through? Perhaps you’re suffering Fibromyalgia associated problems like headaches, migraines, severe joint stiffness and muscle tender points? If this sounds like you, I can assure you that you’re not alone and that our practice has seen many people over the years just like you. In fact, Fibromyalgia is quite a commonly diagnosed condition in Australia.

As medical research has begun to understand Fibromyalgia better, we now know that the condition can be extremely fluctuating and varying in severity between individuals. Fibromyalgia usually presents as chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain, tenderness and fatigue that affects females more then males.

ASSOCIATED FIBROMYALGIA SYMPTOMS MAY INCLUDE:

  • Poor posture
  • Previous trauma or injury
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • Loss of strength and mobility
  • Lack of concentration
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Poor memory
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Brain Fogginess
  • Stress, Depression and Anxiety
  • Unexplained weight loss / gain
  • Delayed reaction to physical exertion
  • Menstrual problems
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Depression and anxiety

WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF FIBROMYALGIA?

Have we discovered what causes Fibromyalgia yet? The simple answer to this question is no. However, scientific research has demonstrated some plausible explanations that require further investigation. The most highly regarded explanation for the development of Fibromyalgia is dysfunction of the central nervous system. The central nervous system is responsible for every process in the human body and consists of the brain, brainstem, cerebellum and spinal cord. Dysfunction at any one of these four locations may contribute to an imbalance of the musculoskeletal system causing the production of Fibromyalgia symptoms.

Research into Fibromyalgia pain relief is still in its early years, but top researchers now agree that there is no doubt the major cause of Fibromyalgia is malfunction, inherent damage to ones nervous system or chemical imbalance. Majority of research pin points the brainstem (that little part at the bottom of your brain and at the top of your neck) and some areas of the central nervous system (brain) as being the primary reason for these changes. These changes are potentially the result of long standing psychological or physical stress1.

“A growing amount of research related to neurobiology of the condition [fibromyalgia] supports the notion that the pain of fibromyalgia is real. In people without pain, these structures encode pain sensations normally. In people with fibromyalgia, the neural activity is increased. These studies indicate fibromyalgia patient have abnormalities within the central brain structures”2

Simply put…the brainstem and certain areas of the brain in people suffering Fibromyalgia are over-firing, they’re too active. When this occurs there’s a cascade of events which occur, adrenal glands release catecholamines (adrenaline, noradrenaline) into the bloodstream which stimulate Type C pain fibres, therefore creating pain. So the question is how can we alter someones brainstem pathways and ultimately influence their pain levels possibly resulting in pain relief? We’ll get this to soon.

FIBORMYALGIA DIAGNOSIS

As little has been known about the condition, diagnosis has been extremely difficult. Until recently classification of Fibromyalgia was largely based on the presence of long standing chronic pain, presence of specific body tender points and associated problems like irritable bowel syndrome and fatigue. Given the ever fluctuating nature of Fibromyalgia this criteria made it extremely difficult to definitively diagnose an individual with suffering Fibromyalgia so this criteria has been updated. An individual should be considered as suffering Fibromyalgia when chronic musculoskeletal pain, poor sleep and fatigue are present.

FIBROMYALGIA TREATMENT OPTIONS

Traditionally, Fibromyalgia has been managed very poorly, leaving sufferers seeking many fibromyalgia treatment options. Individuals have been prescribed endless quantities of drugs, pain medications, supplements, herbs, vitamins…even magnets! And when those drugs, pain medications, supplements, herb, vitamins and magnets don’t work, what happens? You get put on a different more potent pain killer, sleeping pill, anti-depressant or anti-inflammatory drug – maybe more than one at the same time!

Chiropractic

Specific upper cervical Atlas Chiropractic technique is quite a unique therapy in Australia. After seeing many Fibromyalgia sufferers I realized most of these people had problems with their upper neck. After years of research I came across a technique called Atlas Orthogonal Chiropractic. An extremely specific, gentle and safe therapy for treating problems of the Atlas and upper neck area.

Other techniques that Chiropractors may use include:

  • Spinal adjusting involves realigning segments that are identified as causing interference to the nervous system
  • Extremity joint mobilisation is very common as a hallmark characteristic of Fibromyalgia is its nature to affect peripheral joints (hips, knee, ankles, shoulders, elbow, wrist), causing stiffness, pain and possibly weakness. Extremity joint mobilisation is a unique technique which is gentle and improves mobility by stretching and relieving pressure within the particular joint
  • Gentle Activator methods is a hand-held instrument used by Chiropractors to facilitate gentle spine and extremity adjusting. This tool is particularly favoured in patients with low pain thresholds

WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH TELL US?

  • Short term Chiropractic management was an effective Fibromyalgia treatment strategy as it was showed to improve neck and lower back flexibility, lower extremity mobility and pain levels. Blunt, K.L et al (1997). The effectiveness of Chiropractic management of Fibromyalgia patients: A pilot study. Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics, 20(6); 389 – 399
  • Clinical significant improvements were noted in overall pain intensity, quality of sleep and fatigue levels following a specific schedule of Chiropractic for Fibromyalgia treatment. Hains, G. et al (2000). A combined ischemic compression and spinal manipulation in the treatment of Fibromyalgia: A preliminary estimate of dose and efficacy. Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics, 23(4); 225 – 230
  • Functional improvements in strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and endurance were demonstrated following a combination of resistance training and Chiropractic treatment. Panton, L.B et al (2009). Effects of resistance training and Chiropractic treatment in women with Fibromyalgia. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine, 15(3); 321 – 328
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