What is it?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterised by widespread pain throughout the body along with fatigue, memory problems, sleep and mood disorders. Sufferers of fibromyalgia often spend years trying to find a diagnosis that fits their symptoms and fluctuate between periods of having high energy and ‘crashes’ of fatigue and pain. In severe cases, fibromyalgia can cause significant lifestyle disruptions, including reduced activity, unemployment and depression.
The underlying mechanism that creates the symptoms of fibromyalgia has been shown to be increased pain amplification by the central nervous system and reduced activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Essentially this means that small pain signals in the body are processed as large pain signals by the central nervous system.
What causes it?
Fibromyalgia is a complicated condition that is poorly understood. This can be very frustrating for sufferers, who often find themselves being shuffled between health practitioners looking for answers and long term relief. While the pain generally feels muscular, usually little to no muscular damage or injury can be found on physical assessment or investigations. The symptoms can also mimic those of an infectious illness or other chronic diseases. Often a diagnosis of fibromyalgia is reached after other diseases and causes have been ruled out.
The cause of fibromyalgia is as yet unknown. It was initially thought that the depression and reduced activity that are often associated with fibromyalgia could be causative, however it has been shown that these are symptoms of fibromyalgia rather than causes. Other significant signs are a lack of REM (good quality) sleep in sufferers and a positive result of more than 11 out of 18 muscular trigger points.
What is the treatment?
Following a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the primary strategy is to understand and manage your symptoms. This can involve pacing activities and exercise so as to reduce ‘crashes’ and pain cycles that lead to frustration. Identifying activity, employment and a routine that doesn’t exacerbate symptoms can have a significant impact on quality of life for someone with fibromyalgia. Having psychological support can also be very important to help deal with the emotional distress of a complex chronic condition that has no outward physical signs.
Treatments that have been shown to help reduce symptoms are TENS (electrical stimulation) which produces an endorphin response and can reduce pain; certain medications may be helpful when prescribed by a doctor; and education and understanding of this condition, helping to manage and maintain some control over your symptoms. Physiotherapists can have a large role in education and helping patients find a routine and activity level that helps them manage their condition as best as possible, as well as providing symptomatic relief during pain cycles with manual therapy, stretching and massage techniques.
It is always best to see a medical professional for advice on your individual injury or condition.
Most tissues in the body have healed completely in six to 12 weeks following an injury. However, many people have severe pain that lasts much longer than this. We know that the intensity of the pain you feel is not always associated with a corresponding amount of actual tissue damage. In some cases, there can be a severe amount of pain with almost no detectable damage. With this in mind, we explore some reasons why your pain might not be getting better, long after the tissues have healed.
You’re afraid of the pain?
Pain can mean many different things, for some of us pain can affect our ability to work or can be a symptom of a serious disease. What you believe about your pain can either amplify or reduce the symptoms you experience. If you feel that every time you experience pain you are causing more damage, you will naturally pay more attention to this and your nervous system will amplify the signals in an attempt to keep you safe.
But if you understand the cause of your pain and know that while there is discomfort, you are not in danger of causing more damage, often the pain will feel less severe. This is one of the benefits of seeing a physiotherapist after your injury as they can help you to understand your pain, giving you more control over your recovery.
You started moving differently after the injury?
Immediately after an injury, it’s natural to change the way you move to avoid painful movements. After a while, these changed movement patterns can become a problem and actually begin to cause pain and discomfort on their own due to the altered stress patterns placed on your body.
Correcting these adaptive movement patterns can often go a long way in reducing pain after an injury. You might not have noticed these changes and might need a physiotherapist to identify and help you to return to your usual movement pattern.
You have lost muscle strength since the injury?
While a certain amount of rest following an injury is helpful, if we stop moving altogether our muscles will lose strength. This can mean that our posture changes, we fatigue easier during our normal activities and we are more susceptible to further injury. Less movement also means we actually focus on the pain more when it does happen. Physiotherapists are able to advise you on the right types and amounts of exercise for you in the period following your injury.
The pain has affected your lifestyle?
When pain affects your ability to sleep, work and even concentrate, it’s not surprising that this can have a negative affect on your overall well-being and mental health. This can create a negative cycle of anxiety and depression that perpetuates and increases the experience of pain. If your pain is really getting you down, speaking to a mental health professional can actually be a valuable part of your physical recovery.
Many other factors can obviously contribute to your neck pain not getting better, but these are four examples we commonly see. Contact your health professional for help with any persistent pain you may be experiencing.