Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by chronic pain that is widespread throughout the body. It is caused by abnormal changes in your brain, not something physically injured at the painful sites. It can sound strange but if you understand that pain is caused by a signal that gets sent OUT by the brain, it can be a lot easier to get your head around the concept of fibromyalgia. Here is a great video that explains how pain works:
The pain individuals experience can come in different forms and feel very intense. It can be dull, sharp or achy. It can also present as strange sensations such as burning or tingling. In individuals without fibromyalgia, when non-painful stimuli occur (such as someone lightly touching your arm or applying gentle pressure), the brain receives this information and interprets it as a non-harmful event. As a result, your brain does not send out the signal that leads you to experience pain.
However, in individuals with fibromyalgia, this ability to process non-painful stimuli is impaired. The brain interprets these non-harmful signals as harmful. This leads the brain to send out a signal that leads them to experience pain, even if there may not be any injury or damage!
How do I know if I have fibromyalgia?
Individuals who experience widespread chronic pain can get diagnosed with fibromyalgia once every other possible condition has been ruled out as a causing factor. Individuals with fibromyalgia usually experience pain in many areas around the body (about 11 or more different points!) continuously for at least 3 months. If investigations and tests are carried out on these numerous areas and no injury or damage can explain the cause of the pain, the doctor may diagnose them with fibromyalgia
How can a physiotherapist and exercise physiologist help?
The chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia can understandably lead people to become very fatigued and avoid doing their daily activities. Physical inactivity in these people cause muscles to become progressively weak and joints to become stiff. This weakness and stiffness can lead to issues in how the muscles and joints move, which can then lead to real, physical pathologies and more pain!
People with fibromyalgia then become stuck in a vicious cycle:
- Fibromyalgia causes widespread chronic pain
- The individual avoids moving and become physically inactive
- This leads to muscle weakness and joint stiffness which then causes issues in how the muscles and joints move
- Pain from fibromyalgia + pain from abnormal muscle and joint movement = more pain
- The individual becomes more physically inactive which then causes further muscle weakness and more pain
there are no interventions that can completely eliminate chronic
Currently, there are no interventions that can completely eliminate chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia. However, a wide range of health professionals can help to minimize the pain individuals experience by breaking the above cycle so that individuals can have a fulfilling and active life! This includes physiotherapists and exercise physiologists.
A physiotherapist can identify specific abnormalities in how the muscles and joints move that is causing your pain. We can then provide a progressive exercise program to improve this so that it minimizes the pain you experience. On top of this, we can provide structured self-management strategies to help reduce your pain in daily activities.
An exercise physiologist can provide an exercise program that will strengthen all the muscles around the body. On top of this, the good hormones released in exercise can also help reduce your pain!