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Alternative Medicine and Fibromyalgia, Part 1

Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a physical disorder that causes the sensory system to become hyperaware of environmental stimuli, including smell, sound, light, vibration, and, most notably, pain. In fact, it is the increased sensitivity to pain among fibromyalgia sufferers that has come to define this condition—the word “fibromyalgia” literally means a condition of pain in the muscle and connective tissue fibers.

Fibromyalgia is nothing new; doctors have been aware of this condition for centuries, and have referred to it by many different names, including chronic rheumatism, muscular rheumatism, fibrositis, myofibrositis, and spinal irritation. Some of the terms once used to describe fibromyalgia, such as “morbid affectation” and “Charcot’s hysteria,” reflect an unfortunate tendency of the medical community to dismiss FMS as a form of hypochondria or mental illness—fibromyalgia sufferers present no obvious measurable physiological changes, so diagnosis of this syndrome has always been largely dependent on the process of exclusion. Physicians must first rule out diseases for which there are measurable tests, and only then is a diagnosis of fibromyalgia considered.

Although some insurance companies and medical professionals still don’t consider fibromyalgia a legitimate diagnosis, both the American College of Rheumatology (AMR) and the World Health Organization officially define FMS as a physical, rather than mental, disorder. As a result of the Copenhagen Declaration, fibromyalgia is now defined as a condition of chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain, which may include chronic fatigue, muscle stiffness, non-refreshing sleep, and painful sensitivity in 11 of 18 defined “tender points.” Fibromyalgia syndrome often coexists with Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS), a painful condition that not only causes chronic muscle pain, but can also cause chronic headaches, irritable bladder, dysmenorrhea, cold sensitivity, Raynaud’s phenomenon, restless legs, physical weakness, poor circulation, and patterns of numbness or tingling.

It has been theorized that repeated stress from any source; be it from physical illness or injury, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PST), chronic depression, extended bouts of grief, etc.; can cause permanent damage to the myofascia, a translucent film that surrounds and supports the muscle tissue. When the body is exposed to stress, the instinctive “fight-or-flight” response causes the muscles and blood vessels to tighten and constrict in preparation for emergency action. In people with fibromyalgia, the structure of the myofascia may permanently thicken and become more like scar tissue, which inhibits the transport of nutrients to and toxins from muscle tissue, so that harmful toxins begin to build up in the body. In addition, a thickened myofascia may prevent neurotransmitters from passing messages between the brain and the nerve endings in the muscles; signals are scrambled and the brain and nerve endings default to a constant fight-or-flight mode, in which the body becomes hyperaware of stimuli. Many researchers believe that it is this damage to the myofascia that ultimately causes those with fibromyalgia to develop trigger points (TrPs) along the body. A trigger point, unlike a tender point, is not a localized area of pain. Instead, stimulating a trigger point causes a painful shooting sensation that travels along a particular pathway of the body. Over 80 percent of those with fibromyalgia suffer with painful trigger points, which can leave them in both a physically and mentally weakened state. People with FMS also tend to have higher levels of Substance P (Pain), a chemical that causes the nerve receptors along the spine to become more receptive to painful sensation. Substance P can move up and down the spine, sensitizing nerves along the spinal chord, and ultimately causing pain to shoot to various areas of the body.

Alternative Medicine and Fibromyalgia, Part 2

Related site: Fibromyalgia fact page
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