Fibromyalgia can be a persistent, life-disrupting condition. It is characterized by a set of symptoms that include widespread pain and stiffness in the body’s soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, and tendons), fatigue that can be extreme at times, and poor quality of sleep. While anyone can be affected by fibromyalgia, women are about seven times as likely to have the condition and they are typically diagnosed in young to middle-age.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Usually, the exact cause (or causes) of fibromyalgia are not known. There are, however, many theories as to contributing factors or triggers. These include:
- Stress (which can be physical or emotional)
- Repeated exposure to cold or damp conditions
- Repetitive strains
- Other underlying health conditions such as lupus, Lyme disease or rheumatoid arthritis
What is known is that people who suffer from fibromyalgia have a heightened sensitivity to pain that causes sensations to be processed by the brain and perceived as more intense than they actually are. You may have heard this phenomenon referred to as central sensitization.
What is Central Sensitization?
People who suffer from fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions may have come across the term central sensitization. Central sensitization is a condition under which your body’s nervous system basically gets “wound up” to a state of heightened reactivity. When this state becomes persistent it becomes a person’s new baseline, which reduces the threshold for what causes pain.
There are typically two characteristics attributed to central sensitization:
- An increased sensitivity to pain
- Heightened sensitivity to touch
Both of these characteristics are caused by nerves that have a heightened sensitivity. These nerves then send improper signals to the brain, and the brain interprets them as being more painful than it should. In other words, when central sensitization occurs, something ordinarily not perceived as painful would now be interpreted as very painful.
Steps Towards Feeling & Functioning Better Naturally
Since fibromyalgia is considered a chronic condition (meaning there is no known specific cure), many people have concerns over using medications for relief due to potential side-effects. Thankfully, there are some natural options to consider when it comes to improving your day-to-day quality of life.
- Dietary changes: incorporating fermented foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt introduces beneficial probiotics into your GI system. Much of your immune system is connected with the gut, and probiotic-rich foods may help prevent yeast overgrowth. Eating antioxidant and omega-3 filled foods can help reduce inflammation and may help with pain levels. Avoiding excess alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods will also help to reduce levels of inflammation.
- Gentle, regular exercise: starting to incorporate regular movement into your daily routine can help reduce pain levels and improve the quality of sleep. Starting with easy, short walks and building up to where you can walk for 30 minutes can be very beneficial. Other forms of exercise such as swimming, yoga, and tai chi are good as well.
- Improve your sleep environment: good sleep begins with having a regular sleep-wake cycle. Maintaining the same bedtime and wake-up time (even on the weekends) can help to regulate your circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality. Other things you can do to get a better night of rest are limiting screen (phone and TV) time before bed, making sure your room is dark, investing in a good mattress, and avoiding food and drink close to bedtime.
- Try supplements: some commonly recommended supplements include magnesium (low levels may be linked to fibromyalgia), 5-HTP (may help to ease anxiety, insomnia, and pain), and melatonin (often used to improve sleep).
- Ensure proper nervous system function: as your learned above, the nerves in your body serve to carry signals to and from the brain. Pain is only one of these signal types. Your nervous system is also responsible for regulating hormone production, which is critical in order to have good quality sleep and energy throughout the day.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care and your Nervous System
It’s no secret that fibromyalgia can be a difficult condition to manage. This is because it can vary so widely from person to person. As variable as it can be, one thing all fibromyalgia sufferers do have in common is that their bodies do not process pain normally.
Upper cervical chiropractic is a subspecialty within the chiropractic profession that looks very closely at nervous system function. Of particular interest to upper cervical chiropractors is an area of the nervous system called the brainstem. The brainstem acts as a “switchboard” for signals that travel between the brain and body and plays a role in the processing of pain signals. The two vertebrae that are responsible for providing protection for the brainstem are your atlas (C1) and axis (C2). The atlas and axis sit just beneath your skull at the very top of the neck. They are also the most freely movable vertebrae of the entire spine, and they account for the majority of the range of motion of our heads.
This becomes important for fibromyalgia sufferers for a couple of reasons:
- Many cases of fibromyalgia have their onset following some type of physical injury or trauma. These injuries could easily cause a misalignment of the upper cervical spine, which can irritate the brainstem and surrounding nerves and tissues.
- Your central nervous system (your brain, brainstem, and spinal cord) is the system that is responsible for processing pain signals. If there is any distortion of these signals caused by an upper cervical misalignment, it can be a contributing factor in the development of fibromyalgia symptoms.
At Precision Spinal Care, we go to great lengths to understand how the upper part of your neck plays into the possibility of your nervous system not functioning properly. We are able to establish if and when an upper cervical misalignment is affecting your brain’s ability to communicate properly with the rest of your body. Our approach to adjusting is gentle and specific, and our adjustments are given with the goal of having them hold in place for as long as possible. Once normal alignment is achieved and the pressure is removed from the affected nerves, your body’s natural healing process can take place optimally. This is how we have helped many fibromyalgia sufferers regain function and quality of life that they thought might never return.