While this condition does require a medical diagnosis, many individuals are actively searching for ways to treat the pain and chronic insomnia on their own.
Let’s take a look at the basics of fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a medical condition that causes extreme pain and discomfort for millions of people. While there is still much about this condition that is unknown, doctors and researchers know more now than in past decades when this invisible disease was often dismissed as hysteria.
One thing is certain: fibromyalgia may be an invisible disease, but it is not an imaginary disease! The symptoms and effects of this condition are very much present and acutely felt by its victims.
Fibromyalgia is most commonly associated with widespread pain or tenderness, especially in the neck, back, and abdomen.
Individuals often experience muscle tenderness, muscle spasms, sensations of coldness or tingling in the extremities, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, fatigue, and insomnia.
Clearly, to deny the validity of a condition that inflicts such pain on an individual is a huge insult. Fibromyalgia is a very real condition that affects real people who need real solutions to chronic pain and fatigue.
Fibromyalgia most commonly affects adults, particularly middle-aged women. The condition typically presents itself in mid-age and women are the most likely targets.
According to the CDC, women are two times more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. FMS also commonly exists besides other medical conditions like Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
Individuals who are obese are also more likely to develop FMS, as are those who have PTSD from traumatic events, a family history of FMS, those who have experienced illnesses like viral infections, and those who have sustained a repetitive injury to a joint (i.e., knee injuries).
Doctors and researchers are not sure why women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia, nor are they sure why fibromyalgia often coexists with other conditions like injury, RA, or Lupus.
With over four million individuals in the U.S. suffering from FMS, the ways that it affects individuals also widely varies. Because of the wide range of symptoms and the fact that FMS shares symptoms with many other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose.
Since it is common to have a delayed diagnosis, many individuals are forced to suffer in silence for many years with a nameless condition. To make matters worse, many fibromyalgia patients are dismissed as being too dramatic or a hypochondriac when they are affected by chronic pain with no title.
In fact, because it is so difficult to pinpoint the culprit of these symptoms, it is estimated that up to 70% of actual FMS patients may still be undiagnosed. It is astounding to realize that millions more may be suffering from fibromyalgia without a proper diagnosis and access to treatment.
Fibromyalgia, obviously, greatly impacts the day-to-day lives of those who are afflicted with it. Stiffness, body aches, and joint pain can limit virtually all activities, from getting out of bed to household chores, to sitting in a desk at work. On top of the physical, and often debilitating, pain is the cognitive complications that often accompany this condition.
To further complicate matters, many individuals suffering from fibromyalgia also suffer from chronic fatigue and insomnia.
Many individuals with fibromyalgia find it difficult to fall into a deep sleep due to extreme pain at night. Some sufferers even describe pulling a sheet over their bodies as unbearable.
In response to this sleep deprivation, these women experienced lowered pain tolerance accompanied by overall discomfort and fatigue. This suggests that insomnia, or at least a lack of sleep, can worsen fibromyalgia symptoms.
So, individuals with fibromyalgia can lose important sleep and miss out on FEM cycles because of pain. In turn, the lack of good sleep can increase pain and discomfort. Therein lies the dilemma for many who battle fibromyalgia: an endless cycle of pain and insomnia.
According to a sleep study cited by The Sleep Foundation, approximately 20% of individuals with fibromyalgia also suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder.
Scientists have been looking for indicators that depression or anxiety also affects how acutely an individual can feel pain. In other words, are people with depression or anxiety more sensitive to pain? If so, that may explain a correlation between FMS and depression or anxiety.
However, it concluded that treatment for depression or anxiety did not alleviate or lessen pain in fibromyalgia patients. Those who were being successfully treated for anxiety or depression did not seem to report a decrease in pain or the frequency of flare-ups.
The results of this particular study did not seem to indicate a direct link between depression and pain tolerance, or depression and fibromyalgia.
Some believe there is a correlation between fibromyalgia and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).
RLS is a neurologic sensorimotor disorder in which individuals feel an overwhelming urge to move their legs while at rest. There may also be a correlation between fibromyalgia, RLS, and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
Whereas RA can damage tissue and joints, fibromyalgia makes the pain worse by targeting other parts of the body like the neck, back, trunk, arms, and legs.
It is unknown why fibromyalgia disproportionately affects those who already have RA. Also, because pain is often dismissed in RA patients as being only related to their arthritis, it often goes undiagnosed - and therefore, untreated - for many years.
As we mentioned previously, fibromyalgia requires a medical diagnosis.
Even though it can take years to accurately diagnose fibromyalgia, it is important to work alongside a personal physician who can pinpoint the root cause of these perplexing symptoms.
After an appropriate diagnosis, a physician may recommend any variety of treatment plans from pharmaceuticals to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
Although pain management is part of fibromyalgia treatment, it is important to remember that adequate treatment of this complex condition should include more than just managing symptoms.
A physician may prescribe a variety of FDA approved drugs to help manage FMS, such as a nerve blocker, muscle relaxer, or some anti-seizure medication. While there is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, there are a variety of medications the FDA has authorized to be prescribed in the treatment of fibromyalgia.
Some individuals pursue CBT to help combat their condition. CBT is a type of short-term psychological treatment that encompasses a variety of techniques to sync the mind-body connection and combat pain. Some popular therapeutic techniques can include journaling, mindfulness, and relaxation training. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts can affect our bodies,
As we mentioned previously, individuals who have experienced a traumatic event are more likely to develop fibromyalgia later on. Some studies have noted higher occurrences of fibromyalgia in individuals who also possess mood disorders. However, the findings were inconclusive.
While some individuals have had success in treating their FMS symptoms with therapies, others find it offensive, alluding to the days when fibromyalgia was linked to hysteria and thought to be a made-up disease of the mind.
Some dietary supplements may help those suffering from FMS. Vitamin D, soy, and magnesium, as well as topical creams containing capsaicin (the substance that gives chili peppers their heat), may be beneficial for those with fibromyalgia.
While pain is often an understandable deterrent for exercising, many people with FMS realize that regular aerobic exercise like walking or swimming can lead to an overall improved quality of life. It can sometimes help reduce pain, fatigue, and stiffness related to fibromyalgia.
Some individuals experience fibromyalgia flare-ups when they are under an abnormal amount of stress. These individuals may turn to journaling, yoga, mindfulness, and practicing gratitude to help navigate their bodies to increased health while managing their stress loads.
This ancient Chinese treatment involves inserting small needles into certain parts of the body identified as trigger points. According to acupuncturists, these needles can alter blood flow and chemical levels, helping manage pain and discomfort from fibromyalgia.
Because massage is widely renowned for its ability to soothe muscle and joint pain, it is often a go-to treatment for fibromyalgia pain. Some studies indicate that several weeks of treatment led to overall improvements in pain, depression, and anxiety individuals with FMS.
An ancient, calming ritual characterized by slow, intentional movements, medication, and deep breathing, many individuals turn to yoga to help manage fibromyalgia pain.
Another popular type of holistic treatment is the weighted blanket. With gentle, firm pressure evenly distributed over the body at bedtime, weighted blankets can help alleviate insomnia as well as help manage pain for those with FMS.
Weighted blankets have been known to decrease insomnia and may help stabilize moods.
Weighted blankets are commonly used to help with a variety of conditions from ADHD and autism to Restless Leg Syndrome. Even more importantly, these blankets may be able to help manage pain related to fibromyalgia.
Let’s take a look at what weighted blankets are and how they may benefit fibromyalgia patients.
Simply speaking, weighted blankets are exactly what their name implies: heavy blankets. But we are not talking about bulky quilts and comforters.
Weighted blankets consist of quilted pockets filled with pellets (or other similar fillers) that evenly distribute weight over the body. Weighted blankets typically need to be at least 10 percent of an individual’s body weight, plus one to two pounds. So, a 150-pound person would need a weighted blanket that is between 15-18 pounds.
Weighted blankets utilize the science behind deep touch pressure to increase serotonin (the happy hormone) and melatonin (the sleepy hormone).
The body has sensory input receptors that can positively respond to gentle, firm pressure. When we feel overwhelmed or restless, sometimes it helps to have sensory input which can, in turn, soothe an overwhelmed nervous system.
Weighted blankets function similarly to the way a fussy baby responds to swaddling or the way a distraught child may need a hug. Gentle, firm pressure can help calm an overwhelmed mind and restless body.
Everyone is different, but many individuals have found success in naturally treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia with weighted blankets.
Curling up under a weighted blanket at night, or even taking a few minutes during the day to drape one over the shoulders or legs can help individuals feel an overall sense of calm.
Remember earlier when we discussed deep touch pressure? Using a weighted blanket puts pressure on the body’s sensory receptors.
Physical pain can overwhelm the central nervous system. only making matters worse.
The constant pain and stress the fibromyalgia patients suffer can cause increased levels of cortisol - the fight or flight hormone.
The body often responds to stress and physical pain by producing too much of this chemical, which winds up the nervous system and signals the body that it’s time to put up a fight. Of course, this is a necessary hormone that our bodies need to survive.
However, for an individual looking for relief from pain, or for someone who desperately needs sleep, too much cortisol can only further complicate matters.
Weighted blankets, through the science of deep touch pressure, can also help stimulate the production of serotonin - the happy hormone.
When the brain makes serotonin, it helps the individual feel better, which can, in turn, help manage pain. Serotonin also helps produce melatonin - the sleep hormone. As we have discussed, chronic fatigue and insomnia are common complications of fibromyalgia.
Using a weighted blanket at night can help the body naturally do what it is supposed to do - produce melatonin and go to sleep.
Because of the way they naturally produce serotonin (the happy hormone) and melatonin (the sleepy hormone), and because of how these hormones naturally combat too much cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone), weighted blankets can successfully help suppress pain and promote sleep for many who battle fibromyalgia.
There is no need to purchase a luxurious and expensive blanket, as an alternative, making your own diy weighted blanket might work just as well.
Fibromyalgia is a fairly common condition that affects millions of people. This condition is often accompanied by a delayed diagnosis as well as delayed access to treatment.
Individuals who suffer from chronic pain, fatigue, and insomnia as a result of fibromyalgia deserve relief from their symptoms.
Weighted blankets help produce serotonin and melatonin through deep touch pressure and can help alleviate some symptoms of fibromyalgia by natural means. For the millions who suffer from FMS, the benefits that weighted blankets can offer may bring better sleep and a better quality of life.