New Interventions for Fibromyalgia Self-Care, Diagnosis, and Healing Solutions
Chances are, someone you know suffers from this condition that causes debilitating chronic, widespread pain. Navigating its challenges requires not only an understanding of the medical aspects but also merits identifying a supportive and empowering approach to fibromyalgia self-care amid day-to-day difficulties.
Until recently, this condition had been largely ignored by the medical community. The American Medical Association has only recognized fibromyalgia as a defined disease since 1987. To this day, many practitioners are still hesitant to issue a fibromyalgia diagnosis because of widespread skepticism and a lack of understanding of the cause of the disease.
Fortunately, there is hope for those living with fibromyalgia, as practitioners and patients continue to demystify and discover key strategies to manage this complex condition.
What Does Fibromyalgia Feel Like?
Those who suffer from fibromyalgia know all too well the undeniable reality of their condition. In addition to pain and stiffness all over the body, fibromyalgia patients can also experience:
- Sleep problems
- Emotional distress
- Cognitive issues, sometimes referred to as “fibro fog”
- Sensitivity to touch and temperature
People with fibromyalgia can also have extreme sensitivity to painful stimuli. Those who live with the condition can attest to their often severe day-to-day experience.
“It’s like constant fatigue, constant pain, memory fog … It’s like something invaded your body and it’s an unwanted visitor and you can’t make them leave.” — Patti Finnegan, fibromyalgia survivor
Fibromyalgia Awareness in the Medical Field
With severe symptoms like those, you may be wondering why fibromyalgia has been ignored by some corners of the medical community. There are a few potential reasons for this.
First, because fibromyalgia is a newer diagnosis, the condition is not yet fully understood.
Second, diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult because many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.
And because there is no blood test or imaging that can confirm a fibromyalgia diagnosis, these symptoms are the primary mode of assessment.
For people with fibromyalgia, it is difficult to know where to seek help or even discover what kind of doctor treats fibromyalgia as a legitimate condition.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Unfortunately, the causes of fibromyalgia can also be mysterious. A combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors likely influences it.
Many researchers believe that fibromyalgia adversely affects pain receptors in the brain and spinal cord, although how exactly these pain receptors are triggered is unknown. The condition is often believed to be prompted by an event that causes severe physical or psychological stress, but sometimes it develops without an obvious cause.
It is known that “anyone can get fibromyalgia, but more women get it than men.” In addition to sex, some of the potential factors that may contribute to the development of fibromyalgia include:
- Age: Though fibromyalgia can occur in people of all ages, it typically manifests in middle-aged adults.
- Genetics and Family History: The disorder tends to run in families, which suggests a genetic component that may increase susceptibility to fibromyalgia.
- Physical Illness or Infection: Some illnesses or infections, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoarthritis, or irritable bowel syndrome, may increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia.
- Psychological or Mood Disorders: Conditions such as depression or anxiety may contribute to the development or exacerbation of fibromyalgia.
- Physical or Emotional Trauma: Injuries or emotional trauma, such as accidents or psychological stress, may trigger the development of the condition in some cases.
There is promising evidence, however, that neuroinflammation significantly contributes to the development and occurrence of fibromyalgia.
Recent research found that “neuroinflammation in FM patients was significantly higher” in multiple regions of the brain compared to other patients, even those who also live with complex chronic pain. These findings only bring the medical community closer to finding better care solutions for those living with fibromyalgia.
Is Fibromyalgia a Disability?
Also much debated is the classification of fibromyalgia as a disability. While fibromyalgia itself is not explicitly listed as a disability in many frameworks, people living with the condition experience symptoms that impact their ability to engage in their daily lives.
For some, the constant battle against pain, fatigue, brain fog, and other sources of physical and emotional distress can often define their day-to-day life.
How Is Fibromyalgia Disabling?
People grappling with fibromyalgia often face perplexing symptoms, but, like many other invisible illnesses, the outward signs may not always align with conventional expectations of disability.
However, the severity of many symptoms for some patients is undoubtedly disabling, even if they’re not apparent on the surface. For people with fibromyalgia, self-care is more than a luxury—it’s crucial to functioning on a daily basis.
Understanding how these symptoms impact people on an individual basis is crucial for a more empathetic discourse:
- Chronic Pain: Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain that affects multiple areas of the body. For many people, this makes it challenging to engage in simple, routine activities such as walking, standing, or even sitting for long periods of time.
- Trigger Points: The chronic pain associated with the condition often manifests in specific trigger points across the body. When pressed, these trigger points can elicit intense discomfort.
- Reduced Mobility: Pain and discomfort can lead to a reduced range of motion, making it difficult to perform commonplace tasks such as bending, reaching, or other maneuvers that require basic flexibility.
- Frequent Fatigue: It’s not uncommon for patients with fibromyalgia to experience persistent fatigue and weakness. Discomfort leads to unrefreshing rest due to sleep disturbances, further exacerbating pain and fatigue and contributing to a seemingly neverending cycle exhaustion.
- Cognitive Difficulties: Also termed “fibro fog,” cognitive challenges such as memory lapses, trouble concentrating, and confusion can interfere with tasks that require focus and attention.
- Emotional Distress: Living with fibromyalgia takes a toll on a patient’s mental health. Anxiety and depression are common, and the emotional impact further contributes to a dip in motivation, mood, and overall well-being.
One of the perplexing aspects of fibromyalgia is the variability in symptom presentation, which can differ significantly from patient to patient. This makes it even more challenging for some to recognize fibromyalgia as a disability. That doesn’t mean the complex interplay of its symptoms doesn’t impact an individual’s ability to lead the life they want for themselves. It simply means a comprehensive understanding is even more essential.
How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
There is no specific test to definitively confirm the presence of fibromyalgia; diagnosis requires a comprehensive, careful evaluation by a fibromyalgia specialist near you. The diagnostic process involves multiple components, each contributing to understanding the patient’s experience.
Practitioners assess various aspects of a patient’s symptoms, including the presence of tender points, muscle stiffness, and joint mobility.
A detailed medical history helps practitioners understand the context of a patient’s symptoms. Individuals may be asked about the duration, intensity, characteristics, and family history of these symptoms.
Widespread Pain Index (WPI) and Symptom Severity (SS) Score
The Widespread Pain Index (WPI) and Symptom Severity (SS) Score are quantitative diagnostic tools. The WPI identifies tender points, while the SS score evaluates the severity of associated symptoms.
Exclusion of Other Conditions
Because fibromyalgia shares symptoms with various other conditions, practitioners conduct tests to exclude alternative explanations.
Given the complexity of the condition and the necessity of a nuanced evaluation, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider such as a rheumatologist, neurologist, or primary care physician with experience in fibromyalgia. These professionals can guide individuals through the diagnostic process.
Can Fibromyalgia Be Permanently Cured?
There is no known cure for fibromyalgia, and effective treatment options can be elusive. Only three medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the condition, although many physicians prescribe pain relievers, antidepressants, or anti-seizure medications to alleviate symptoms. A laser-based therapy, or photoceutical device, has also been approved, but its effectiveness has only been tested over the course of three weeks, meaning “it’s not clear how lasting the relief from pain is.”
With no available cure, many patients look to other approaches and solutions to find relief and improve their quality of life.
Fibromyalgia Coping Strategies and Treatment Options
These strategies and therapeutic interventions are used to enhance the quality of life for individuals navigating the challenges of fibromyalgia.
Creating a balanced and supportive lifestyle forms the foundation for overall well-being, which is fundamental to managing fibromyalgia.
This includes prioritizing sleep, establishing healthy routines, and engaging in relaxation techniques to mitigate the impact of stress on the body. Some individuals find relief by avoiding certain trigger foods and incorporating anti-inflammatory nutrients into their diets.
Engaging in regular, low-impact exercise such as yoga, stretching, and water-based aerobics can enhance muscle strength and alleviate pain. Tailored physical therapy programs can also improve flexibility and minimize pain.
Fibromyalgia Self-Care and Stress Management
Addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of fibromyalgia is a powerful way to cope with pain and stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help patients find a safe, supportive space to manage the emotional impact of the condition.
Fibromyalgia self-care techniques can also include listening to your body, pacing activities, and practicing self-compassion to facilitate a positive mindset despite personal limitations.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is considered by researchers to be highly beneficial for fibromyalgia patients, especially when included as part of a holistic treatment program. HBOT increases the availability of oxygen in the body, promoting natural self-healing. Since inflammation is often associated with fibromyalgia symptoms, enhanced oxygenation via a specific protocol can contribute to a reduction in inflammation, which could provide relief from pain and discomfort.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Fibromyalgia Relief
At Aviv Clinics, our founder, Dr. Shai Efrati, has long been passionate about finding better treatment options. His mother suffered from fibromyalgia and was unable to hold her grandchildren when they were born due to her immense pain. He hypothesized that a specific hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocol could treat the areas of the brain that misinterpret pain signals. “The problem is real. It is biological, not psychological like we used to think in the past” Dr. Efrati explains.
“The problem is in the brain, in the locations that are responsible for interpreting signals from the body. The signals are misinterpreted, and then we think there is a pain signal, even though there is no stimulus.”
Pioneering Research for HBOT and Fibromyalgia
In 2015, Dr. Efrati and his research team conducted the first-ever published clinical trial on the efficacy of HBOT on people with fibromyalgia. This trial resulted in symptom improvement in every one of the 48 participants, and brain scans revealed positive changes in the pain-related areas of the brain. Powerfully, this study “provides evidence that HBOT can improve quality of life and wellbeing of many FMS patients.”
More recently, the research team compared the effectiveness of HBOT to that of pharmaceuticals. In this trial, which was published in March of this year, 64 patients who had traumatic brain injury-induced fibromyalgia received either fibromyalgia medication or HBOT treatment.
“The unique hyperbaric oxygen therapy brought significant relief of all symptoms related to fibromyalgia,” says Dr. Efrati. “Not only the pain; everything was significantly better in the hyperbaric group as compared to the medication group. In fact, the improvement was so significant that two out of every five patients no longer met the criteria for fibromyalgia.”
This research, which discovered that “HBOT can improve pain symptoms, quality of life, emotional and social function,” brings optimism to people who suffer from this invisible illness and have not experienced relief from medications. Rather than simply treating the symptoms, the hyperbaric oxygen protocol offers the potential for true recovery.
Fibromyalgia Relief at Aviv Clinics
If you or someone you love is living with fibromyalgia pain, we invite you to contact us.
Aviv Clinics is bringing hope and healing to those suffering from this mysterious condition – learn more.
Watch Patti’s story – Patti struggled with Fibromyalgia and suffered with chronic pain and baffling brain fog every day as a result. Now, she feel like she has a whole new life after completing the Aviv Medical Program at Aviv Clinics.
For more information about the Aviv Medical Program, schedule a free consultation at Aviv Clinics.