At least 2% of the United States population or six million people, mostly women, have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. This is a chronic (long-term) disease, which is characterized by widespread pain of at least three months duration, and includes the legs or arms, and the spine. There have to be at least 11 tender spots at 18 predetermined sites on the body.
For many years, some doctors thought it was all in a patient’s head and were referred their patients to psychologists. Although the cause is still unknown, there is much research that shows the pains are real and quality of life is dramatically affected. In addition to the widespread pain, there are often sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches, morning stiffness, paresthesias (tingly creepy sensations) and anxiety. All ages are affected but most patients are middle-aged. Few have found good solutions to the problem and find themselves in a health care maze of treatments.
Although there are no guidelines for treatment, there is evidence that a multidimensional approach can help. As far as medical doctors’ approach to this difficult problem, they generally use patient education and pharmacologic (medication) therapy. Although 90% of patients will take the medication approach, some have concerns about long-term use and potential undesired side effects. In the case of anti-inflammatory drugs, potential complications such as stomach bleeding can occur in some patients.
Most fibromyalgia patients use a combination of medical and alternative care because medication alone is seldom effective. Doctors of chiropractic avoid the use of medications and emphasize spinal adjustments to correct abnormal postural and motion problems. These adjustments are usually one important aspect of care often lacking for many patients. The doctor may also advise you on diet and weight-loss strategies. A low inflammation diet with lots of fruit and vegetables can help many patients. Supplements such as antioxidants and minerals are also used.
Everyone, including fibromyalgia patients, will benefit from a structured exercise program, which has both aerobic and strength-resistance training components. Although muscle pains are prominent in this disorder, lack of exercise will generally make the problem more chronic and disabling.