Fibromyalgia is a common chronic pain syndrome. Despite the fact it affects about 10 million Americans and 3%-6% of people worldwide, it’s hard to diagnose and can be hard to treat. An overwhelming majority — 75%-90% of cases — are in women, but it can affect both men and children, and it’s found in all ethnic groups.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, osteopathic physician Dr. Richard Bernstein and his staff understand how chronic muscle and joint pain, including fibromyalgia, can interfere with your quality of life. But while fibromyalgia has no cure, the team offers integrative solutions to help encourage your body to heal, providing lasting relief.
Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a difficult disorder to pin down, and its diagnosis is still one of excluding anything else that can be causing your symptoms. For the last 200 years, its existence has often been doubted in medical circles, with some physicians believing it was nothing more than a fad disease or “female hysteria” because it failed to show up on an X-ray, other imaging tests, or blood tests. Many patients were even told it was “all in their head” because it produces no visible signs.
However, FMS was described in the medical literature as early as 1824. In 1880, a group of symptoms was attributed to it, validating its existence. And in 1972, it took another leap forward when medical researchers clearly described and defined the characteristic widespread pain and tender points.
While there’s still much we don’t know about FMS, today, it’s recognized as a condition in which pain and stiffness occur in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the body. Current thinking is that the disorder alters how the brain processes pain signals, creating amplified pain sensations even where there’s no pain trigger.
Symptoms can develop slowly over time or be triggered by events, such as trauma, infection, or stress.
Pain and other common signs of fibromyalgia
FMS is known best for its widespread pain. Because it can affect joints and soft tissues, it was included as part of arthritis “umbrella” for many years. But while the pain is relatively constant, the severity of the symptoms can change from one day to the next — or even one hour to the next.
Other common symptoms include:
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Disturbed sleep or insomnia
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering (“fibro fog”)
- Distinct tender points that develop bilaterally on the neck, back, chest, buttocks, and hips
- Muscle stiffness or tightening
- Reduced physical endurance
The tender points occur in predictable places on the body and are often located just under the skin’s surface. The fascia (tissue) covers the muscles and joints that causes the pain, not the joints themselves.
People with fibromyalgia often live with two or more other chronic conditions, including:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Interstitial cystitis
Having FMS, though, isn’t a guarantee you’ll develop anything else.
As we’ve mentioned, diagnosing FMS is a tricky proposition. No pathology shows up on an X-ray or other imaging test. No specific factor turns up in a blood test. Doctors pretty much make the diagnosis by first eliminating any other potential cause.
However, researchers recently discovered patients living with fibromyalgia have abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline in their brains, which may lead to tests down the road and suggest treatments that may help.
Because there’s no cure for the disorder, treatment focuses on managing and reducing pain and related symptoms. Some common recommendations include:
- A healthy diet
- Regular, low-impact exercise
- Physical therapy
- Medications (pain relievers, weak opioids, antidepressants)
- Trigger point injections
- Coriticosteroid injections
- Stress reduction
Dr. Bernstein also offers two other options. Using osteopathic manual medicine, he manipulates your body with his hands to increase strength, range of motion, and flexibility, using techniques ranging from muscle stretches to mild pressure to resistance exercises.
He also uses regenerative medicine techniques, specifically stem cell therapy. He infuses your painful tissues with these “blank slate” cells that promote tissue regeneration and growth. They also reduce inflammation, helping you heal from the inside out.
There may be no cure for fibromyalgia, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with the pain and discomfort. Santa Cruz Osteopathic can help. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Bernstein, give us a call at 831-464-1605, or book online with us today.