Fibromyalgia – what it is and the treatment options

Fibromyalgia is a relatively common condition of unknown cause which affects middle aged women in particular and results in debilitating pain and muscle stiffness all over the body, with particular joints and soft-tissue being especially painful. Tiredness and exhaustion, ‘pins and needles’ sensations in the arms and legs, dizziness, chest pains, poor concentration and memory, irritable bowel syndrome (fluctuating between diarrhoea and constipation and stomach pains) and erratic sleeping patterns are all symptoms of this condition. It is a chronic and often complex illness that requires careful treatment and management.

The soft-tissues predominantly affected are the muscles, ligaments and tendons – often across neck and low back areas. There is rarely any swelling with this problem and there are few tests which can confirm this condition. Patients with fibromyalgia generally have lower pain thresholds and lower presence of the brain chemicals that help regulate sleep, mood and pain perception.

Gentle osteopathic treatment, in conjunction with other therapies and medication as appropriate, can relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Muscle tension can be reduced and joint mobility improved and a plan can be created specific to your individual needs. In addition, if you think you might have this condition, you might want to consider some of the following approaches:

  • Firstly, if you suspect you might be suffering from fibromyalgia, visit your GP to have the diagnosis confirmed and ask them to explain the condition and discuss the management options with you. There is strong evidence that some medications can help relieve some of the symptoms.

  • Cardiovascular exercise is proven to be an effective way to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Light running, walking, jogging, cycling and swimming can be included in a programme to promote the release of the body’s happy drugs (endorphins and serotonin for example), reduce the muscle tension and help you sleep better

  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), relaxation techniques, strength training, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, massage and warm baths have also been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of fibromyalgia

If you are not responding well to any of these therapies, your GP might refer you to a rheumatologist, psychiatrist or pain management specialist. As fibromyalgia is a complex condition, it often requires a multi-disciplinary and team care approach. Osteopathy can be a useful tool in that multi-disciplinary box of treatment solutions.

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