An introduction to fibromyalgia
The term fibromyalgia is derived from a combination of three Greek or Latin words. Firstly, ‘fibra’ referring to fibrous connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons in the body. Secondly, ‘myo’ which means muscles. Thirdly, ‘algos’ which means pain.
It was first coined in 1981 although the syndrome has been traced as far back as the 1800s. The condition went through several name changes and has been referred to as chronic rheumatism, Charcot’s hysteria, hysterical paroxysm, muscular rheumatism, and spinal irritation. It has even been called a psychological problem for hypochondriacs; patients were labelled as having ‘a morbid affection’.
It was called fibrositis, or inflammation of the fibrous tissues, from the turn of the 1900s to the mid-1970s. That is until the advent of the electroencephalogram or the EEG. This measures electrical activity in the brain. People who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia show anomalies in the electrical activities in certain areas of the brain especially while they are sleeping.
This is also believed to contribute to and explain the depression and other mood disorders, the overwhelming fatigue, irritable bowel, poor concentration, slowed thinking and memory issues or something called ‘fibro fog’, along with the pain that they experience.
Scientists changed the name to fibromyalgia after they were unable to find evidence of inflammation in the muscles.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is still a puzzle. The official classification is murky and its exact definition changes depending on the source. It is described as a condition, disorder, disease, health problem or syndrome depending on who you ask. Confirming a diagnosis has been known to take up to five years because it involves eliminating other possible causes of the pain. It’s incredibly difficult to categorise, define or put in a box.
It often coexists with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren’s syndrome (but not always). The debilitating nerve pain manifests in the connective muscles and soft tissues throughout the body but without any inflammation. It is difficult to diagnose because it is a multi-factorial syndrome with many contributing factors that trigger flare-ups.
It is characterised by widespread muscle pain for at least three months, above and below the waist, on both sides of the body in at least 11 out of 18 specific areas including the arms, chest, back, buttocks, hips, legs, neck, shoulders and spine. Tests usually reveal that there is no inflammation in the muscle tissue. The pain in the muscles probably arises as a result of increased sensitivity of the nerves present in these tissues.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia has diverse associated symptoms. They are often derived from an unusual sensitivity to pain in the muscles and soft tissues as well as a combination of other presenting factors and symptoms outlined below:
- Chronic pain
Pain, tenderness, and muscle stiffness are the most blatant and common symptoms of fibromyalgia. It most commonly affects the neck, shoulders and back. Sometimes muscles might spasm or twitch.Although the pain is likely to be present all the time, the intensity fluctuates. Muscle pain and stiffness can be worse when you remain in one position for a long time. This might be why the pain is worse when waking up in the mornings after not having moved all night long.For many people, muscles are tender to even the gentlest touch, and if you hurt yourself with a simple injury, the pain experienced is out of proportion to the severity of the injury.Podcast: Manage muscle and joint pain naturally.
- Sleep issues and fatigue
Most people with fibromyalgia get tired easily or are tired all the time, experiencing extreme tiredness and fatigue.Despite feeling tired, they often find that they are unable to fall asleep or sleep well. Others find that they wake easily or seem to be awake all night. Most find that they do not wake feeling rested or refreshed.Top tip: The perfect formula for a good night’s rest.
People suffering from fibromyalgia may have trouble remembering names, recalling them, and may have trouble learning new tasks and skills. Concentrating is often a tiresome task. Thought sometimes slows down. This is referred to as fibro-fog.
- Digestive symptoms
People suffering from fibromyalgia often experience a variety of digestive symptoms. These may form a pattern giving rise to a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A common factor in these symptoms appears to be muscle spasms in the digestive tract, although food intolerances may also be responsible for some of these symptoms. These can include:
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Bloating in the stomach.
- Stomach cramps.
- Diarrhoea or constipation.
- Other fibromyalgia symptoms
- Depression, anxiety, stress and excessive worry and low mood.
- Headaches and migraines are one of the most commonly experienced symptoms along with pain in the jaw.
- Poor circulation such as Raynaud’s phenomenon caused by spasm of the arteries and an interruption of blood flow to the extremities of the body.
- Tingling sensations, pins and needles, or numbness to the hands and feet may also be symptoms of fibromyalgia. These symptoms may also be described as having swollen hands or feet (without them being swollen). They are probably a result of a combination of poor circulation and inflammation of nerve tissue.
- Some people with fibromyalgia find that they have to urinate more often as is the case in interstitial cystitis.
- Restless legs syndrome is experienced by up to 20% of people suffering from fibromyalgia. This is a condition where the legs feel uncomfortable and in need of constant movement or massage.
What causes fibromyalgia?
Although many theories exist, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. It is unlikely to have one single cause and is considered multi-factorial or due to a number of contributing factors. These may include:
- Having elevated levels of anxiety or stress.
- Sleep disturbances or interrupted sleep patterns.
- Imbalances in dopamine, serotonin, and growth hormones.
- Physical, mental, or emotional traumas in the past.
- Psychological factors such as depression and other mood disorders are closely related.
- Chronic viral infections, post-viral syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
- Having a chronically compromised immune system or autoimmune disorders.
- Having rheumatic illnesses such as ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Other research suggests that fibromyalgia is caused by a combination of three things. Firstly, chronic neuroinflammation of the actual nerve cells after a trauma. Secondly, small-fibre neuropathy which interferes with the way the peripheral nervous system communicates along these nerves through the central nervous system and is then misinterpreted by parts of the brain. Thirdly, the presence of co-occurring autoimmune disorders.
How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
Fibromyalgia mimics many other conditions and there is no single medical test to confirm a diagnosis. There are several questionnaires or fibromyalgia tests, but these don’t always provide an accurate and definitive assessment.
Some doctors still use a technique where they look for high levels of tenderness in 18 points in the body using criteria defined by the American College of Rheumatology in 1990. This is considered outdated and is often only the starting point.
Doctors tend to consider the possibility of fibromyalgia based on the history of widespread muscle tenderness and pain, fatigue, problems with sleep and other symptoms. Conditions such as rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune conditions and lupus, anaemia, thyroid issues, and glandular fever are ruled out first. Blood tests are conducted to exclude these conditions before confirming a diagnosis.
The Living Naturally approach to treating fibromyalgia
Living Naturally recommends treating fibromyalgia holistically and systemically. This includes addressing diet, lifestyle, mindset, and symptoms.
- Implementing stress management interventions
Podcast: We discuss what to look out for in your body and discuss solutions including natural medication and lifestyle changes that can help you and your family through these stressful times. Click here to listen.
- Provide adrenal support
Podcast: A holistic approach to treat adrenal fatigue and burnout including diet, lifestyle changes and natural medicines, which help the body to cope with stress. Click here to listen.
- Look into the possibility of food sensitivity, dysbiosis and leaky gut
Podcast: Leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability (IP) causes havoc with the immune system and contributes to several health conditions. Learn how to manage it naturally. Click here to listen.
- Regulate the pH balance in the body
Podcast: Everything we eat, drink, breathe and consume, as well as everything that we think, say or do influences the biochemical composition of our bodies. Learn why it’s important to balance your pH and how to regulate acidity levels. Click here to listen.
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet
We recommend the MIND Diet. As the name implies, the MIND diet is aimed at promoting healthy brain and nerve function. It lowers the risk of dementia too. This diet is rich in brain-healthy foods in their most natural forms. These include wholefoods, fresh fruit and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds as well as healthy fats. Remember to regulate the amount of salt in your diet, and to drink the right amount of good quality filtered water daily.
- Exercise gently, moderately and consistently
Our bodies are designed to move. Exercising regularly allows our bodies to release happy hormones and natural painkillers and does so much more. Moderation and consistency are key. A 30-minute walk around the block or bicycle ride, or perhaps gentle stretching equals only 2% of a 24-hour day. Before you do, check with the chiropractor whether it’s safe to do so.
Consider supplementing with:
Bio-Strath is a 100% natural, Swiss plasmolysed herbal yeast supplement containing 61 essential nutrients. These include 11 vitamins, 19 minerals, 20 amino acids and 11 building substances in a highly bioavailable format. It has 39 scientific studies and publications confirming its effectiveness.
It improves micronutrient bioavailability and the absorption of iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B1 which the body finds difficult to do. It helps the body to restore vitality the natural way.
|THRESHHold Real MSM
This is an organically bonded form of sulphur found in nature and is naturally occurring in the human body. It is essential for healthy connective tissue with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Each tablet contains 1,000 mg of OptiMSM (the purest form of MSM available). It is non-allergenic, Kosher and Halal certified, non-GMO, gluten-free, allergen-free, non-shellfish-derived and classified vegan. It provides MSM in an evidence based, clinically active dose and has no known drug interactions or contraindications.
Oxiprovin is a health supplement that contains grape seed extract which is a source of antioxidants (oligomeric proanthocyanidins) for the maintenance and preservation of good health and venous health. Each capsule contains 140 mg South African grape seed extract. Antioxidants may assist individuals who follow a sedentary lifestyle, have a poor diet and high stress levels.
This is a source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as citrate and bicarbonate salts (alkalising minerals) and has a systemic alkalinising effect. It supports the body’s acid buffering mechanism by supplying essential alkaline minerals required to combat a typical acidogenic diet (high in animal protein and low/deficient in fruit, vegetables, and minerals) and lifestyle, thereby assisting in addressing the negative consequences thereof. Multiforce is also a valuable source of bioavailable magnesium citrate which may help with restless legs.
|A.Vogel Rheumatism Formula
This is a homeopathic medicine for the supportive treatment of rheumatism. In accordance with homeopathic literature, the ingredients address symptoms such as mild to moderate pain and discomfort of the red and swollen soft tissue within the musculoskeletal system such as muscles, tendons, fibrous tissue as well as nerve pain and rheumatism.
|A.Vogel Petadolor Analgesic Formula
This homeopathic medicine is for the supportive treatment of painful conditions. In accordance with homeopathic literature, the ingredients specifically address conditions characterised by nerve pain and spasms. It’s recommended for painful spasms of the neck and back, associated headaches and nerve pains.
|A.Vogel Neuroforce Formula
The ingredients in this homeopathic nerve tonic specifically address nervous tension and exhaustion during or after stressful events with hypersensitivity, agitation and restlessness. It is indicated for emotional symptoms such as grief, tearfulness, anger, resentment, irritability, anticipation, fear and a depressed mood. It is used to support the nervous system during periods of stress, conflict or emotional strain or in situations of acute shock and trauma.
This is the most extensively researched and scientifically proven Echinacea product on the market with a proven mode of action, impressive safety profile and a number of clinical trials confirming its successful clinical application.
It is made from freshly harvested Echinacea purpurea resulting in a product with significantly higher levels of the anti-inflammatory active ingredient, alkylamides, with a stronger effect than dry plant extracts.
These capsules are a source of the omega-3 essential fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), that are essential for the maintenance of good health and must be included in the diet as the body does not produce them.
Parts of this article appeared on A.Vogel South Africa.
Living Naturally has a dedicated helpline to help you with your questions or queries. Feel free to get in touch on Tel: +27(0)31-783-8000. Mondays to Fridays between 09:00 – 16:00, we’d love to hear from you.
- What is fibromyalgia? (no date) Fibromyalgia: What is it? Causes and Diagnosis. Available at: https://www.avogel.co.za/health/fibromyalgia/what-is-fibromyalgia
- Dellwo, A. (no date) Is Fibromyalgia an Autoimmune Disease?, Verywell Health. Available at: https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmunity-neuroinflammation-in-fibromyalgia-5197944
- Fibromyalgia (2023) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/fibromyalgia
- Fibromyalgia (2023a) Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibromyalgia
- Fibromyalgia (no date) Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354780
- Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, causes, and treatment (no date) Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/147083
- Professional, C.C. medical (no date) Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment, Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4832-fibromyalgia