Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
As awful as it may feel, pain is meant to help us by warning us that a part of our body is injured and needs attention. Usually, pain signals work just fine. They fire when there is damage to a part of the body and turn off when the damage is resolved. Sometimes, however, these signals can fire inappropriately, warning us of danger when there isn’t any (or long after the danger has passed). If a person experiences pain for three months or more, it’s called chronic pain. There are numerous types of chronic pain disorders, each of which is characterized by the part of the body that’s in pain. One of the most common chronic pain disorders is called fibromyalgia, which affects about four million U.S. adults[1]. People with fibromyalgia experience abnormal pain perception processing, causing widespread musculoskeletal pain. In this article, we’ll be focusing mostly on fibromyalgia, but the information we share also applies to the following chronic pain conditions:
  • Chronic pain syndrome
  • Chronic back pain, neck pain, knee pain, pelvic pain, etc.
  • Chronic headaches
  • Migraines
  • Sciatica
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Repetitive stress injury (RSI)
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Coccydynia
  • Chronic temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
  • Chronic tendonitis
  • Neuropathy
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
  • Vulvodynia
  • Allodynia
Living with fibromyalgia can be downright miserable and prevent you from living your life to its fullest. The good news is that fibromyalgia is now being recognized as a limbic system condition that occurs due to neurological trauma. This is something to celebrate, as it means that it’s reversible in many (if not most) cases. In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about fibromyalgia, including how re-origin, a neuroplasticity-based treatment program, can help you rid yourself of your symptoms and get back to doing all of the things you love—pain-free!

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

The most defining feature of fibromyalgia is what’s now referred to as “regions of pain”—previously referred to as “trigger points.” People with fibromyalgia experience pain in clusters on both sides of their bodies and above and below the waist. The pain affects the muscles and joints and is often described as an unrelenting, dull ache. Fibromyalgia doesn’t only present as pain, however. Other symptoms[2] of the condition include:
  • Widespread stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory lapses
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Pain or a dull ache in the lower belly
  • Dry eyes
  • Bladder problems, such as interstitial cystitis
  • Painful periods (in women)
When someone has fibromyalgia, their symptoms are typically always present to some extent, however, the severity of the symptoms can wax and wane. Many sufferers notice that their symptoms can be made worse by stress of any kind, whether physical or psychological. Additionally, those with fibromyalgia often have overlapping conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), post-viral fatigue, food sensitivities, chemical sensitivities, and electromagnetic field (EMF) sensitivities. While these conditions might not seem related at first glance, they all stem from a dysfunctional limbic system, which can cause all sorts of wide-reaching symptoms and conditions.

Causes and risk factors of fibromyalgia

According to the Mayo Clinic[3], fibromyalgia occurs due to repeated nerve stimulation that causes the brain and spinal cord of people with fibromyalgia to change. Additionally, the brain’s pain receptors seem to develop a memory of the pain and become sensitized[4], meaning they can overreact to both painful and non-painful stimuli. The Mayo Clinic states that these changes are often triggered by infections, accidents, or emotional events. re-origin’s neuroplasticity-based program is right in line with what’s currently understood about fibromyalgia. Our program explains that fibromyalgia is the result of an impairment in a part of the brain called the limbic system[5]. The limbic system is not only involved in your behavioral and emotional responses, but it also drives your primal fight/flight/freeze response. A limbic system impairment can arise when someone experiences a traumatic physical or emotional event while their chronic stress load is already high. Let’s say, for example, you get in a car accident while in the midst of a divorce. The combination of stressors essentially overwhelms your brain, changing the circuitry in the limbic system and creating a maladaptive stress response. When the limbic system becomes impaired in this way, its protective mechanisms fire more rapidly and inappropriately. It continuously sends out alarm signals that stimulate the nervous system and immune system, even when the body isn’t damaged or in danger. These faulty neural pathways ultimately become conditioned[6], meaning they get stuck in an unconscious loop that perpetuates itself, leading to the unrelenting pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia can affect people of all ages, however, it’s most common in middle-aged women. It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences a physical or emotional trauma will develop fibromyalgia, however, there are some risk factors that may make one more likely to develop the condition including:
  • Having a high chronic stress load
  • Experiencing a physical or emotional trauma (a virus, an accident, an emotional event, etc.)
  • Experiencing traumas in close succession

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia is most often diagnosed by a family medicine doctor or rheumatologist who will begin the diagnostic process by assessing your symptoms, taking your medical history, and performing a physical exam. They will also likely run blood tests to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms, such as thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and vitamin D deficiency. A doctor will consider a diagnosis of fibromyalgia when other health conditions are ruled out and a person experiences musculoskeletal pain in four out of the five regions outlined by the American College of Rheumatology for at least three months. The regions include[7]:
  • Left upper region, including shoulder, arm, or jaw
  • Right upper region, including shoulder, arm, or jaw
  • Left lower region, including hip, buttock, or leg
  • Right lower region, including hip, buttock, or leg
  • Axial region, which includes neck, back, chest, or abdomen

How is fibromyalgia treated?

While more and more research[8] is pointing to the fact that fibromyalgia is caused by changes in the brain, most medical professionals don’t yet fully understand its cause or how to treat it. As such, there aren’t any precise treatment protocols commonly offered through mainstream medicine. In traditional or mainstream medicine, treatment generally focuses on managing symptoms, while alternative medicine tends to focus on reducing an individual’s inflammation levels. Unfortunately, both of these approaches don’t address the root neurological cause of fibromyalgia. Before we delve into how to treat fibromyalgia from a neurological perspective, let’s discuss common traditional and alternative treatment options and the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Medications

Medications can help temporarily reduce fibromyalgia pain and improve sleep. Common choices include:

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, may help temporarily reduce pain and, consequently, improve sleep. These medications, however, do nothing to address the root neurochemical cause of fibromyalgia and can lead to dependency.
  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressants, such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), may help reduce pain and improve sleep and mood, however, they also do not address the root limbic system impairment. Additionally, antidepressants come with a long list of potential side effects and many people have difficulty discontinuing use.
  • Anti-seizure drugs: Certain medications designed to treat epilepsy, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica), may help reduce pain levels. Once again, these types of drugs do not address the underlying problem and come with many possible side effects and the risk of dependency.

Physical therapy

Some people with fibromyalgia opt to visit a physical therapist to help improve their mobility. A physical therapist can teach individuals exercises that may improve their strength, flexibility, and stamina. While this may help a person’s functionality to a certain degree, many fibromyalgia sufferers can’t tolerate physical therapy, as it often causes pain to flare up even more. Additionally, physical therapy won’t get rid of, or likely even reduce, pain levels and other fibromyalgia symptoms. This is because physical therapy fails to address the neurological cause of fibromyalgia.

Relaxation techniques

Some people report feeling less pain after practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, or meditation, or receiving a relaxing treatment, such as acupuncture, massage, or reiki. These therapies may provide temporary relief and help calm an overactive stress response to a certain degree, however, they don’t address the conditioned pathways in the brain that are causing the fibromyalgia symptoms.

Diet & detoxification

Some medical practitioners, especially naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, and integrative medicine doctors, will suggest a certain diet or detoxification protocol aimed at lowering a patient’s inflammation levels.

Individuals may see some improvement in their symptoms through diet and detoxification due to a reduction in inflammation, however, most people aren’t able to fully and permanently resolve their symptoms via this route. Additionally, when symptoms are lowered in this way, the person must stick to the protocol indefinitely. For example, if a certain diet reduces a person’s symptoms, that person will typically find that their symptoms flare up the second they stray from their diet plan. This can be very limiting, as strict diets and protocols often need to be continuously enforced. It’s also important to note that following diet and detoxifications protocols can be very expensive, as they generally require specialty, high-priced foods and loads of supplements.

Diet and detoxification is ultimately not effective because inflammation isn’t the root cause of fibromyalgia. Rather, chronic inflammation is a symptom of an impaired limbic system. Once the limbic system dysfunction is addressed, inflammation levels will naturally return to normal.

How we approach fibromyalgia and other pain conditions

Fibromyalgia occurs when the limbic system becomes traumatized due to experiencing a physical or emotional trauma while your stress load is already high. When in this impaired state[9], the limbic system inappropriately stimulates the nervous system and the immune system, leading to the pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. The good news is that these symptoms are temporary and can be reversed thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change and develop new neural pathways. At re-origin, we focus on addressing the root cause of fibromyalgia: an impaired limbic system[10]. We believe that interrupting faulty neural pathways in the brain and calming the overactive threat-response system are the keys to permanent and full recovery. Using specific neurocognitive exercises, you can get your brain out of “emergency mode” and back to a place of safety and balance where well-being can naturally resume. re-origin’s approach is self-directed, meaning you can implement it entirely on your own, restoring your body’s homeostasis. Additionally, this program does not chase or mask symptoms, but rather works to rewire the part of the brain that is causing the dysfunction (the limbic system), resulting in long-lasting recovery. The program is easy to follow, cost-effective, and takes just minutes a day to implement.

How to live and cope with chronic pain and fibromyalgia

There are many suggestions out there for living and coping with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, some of which include resting, avoiding certain activities, joining a support group, and practicing relaxation techniques. While all of these things may offer some short-term benefits, they don’t get to the root of your fibromyalgia symptoms.

At re-origin, we believe that nobody should have to live or cope with chronic pain. We want you to eliminate your pain so that you can resume doing all of the things you love. Our program involves applying an easy-to-follow, five-step neurocognitive technique to override and rewire faulty conditioning in the brain and create new, functional neural pathways. The key to overcoming fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions lies in applying our techniques and being persistent in your efforts. With dedication and repetition, you can create new, pain-free neural pathways in your brain. Learn more about the re-origin program with a free trial at re-origin.com/freetrial.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about fibromyalgia:
Fibromyalgia affects the muscles and joints. People often describe fibromyalgia pain as a constant, dull ache. The pain is widespread, meaning it occurs in several different regions of the body at once.
Never assume that the pain you’re experiencing is fibromyalgia without visiting a doctor. A medical professional can take your medical history and assess your symptoms. If other medical conditions are ruled out and you’ve been experiencing pain in four out of the five regions outlined by the American College of Rheumatology for at least three months, you’ll likely be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Yes, fibromyalgia is considered a type of chronic pain, meaning that it lasts for longer than three months.
Fibromyalgia symptoms vary from person to person, however, the most debilitating symptoms associated with fibromyalgia generally include widespread pain, fatigue, brain fog, and mood issues.

A Final Word from re-origin

Chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia can be very debilitating, frustrating, and confusing. After all, pain is only supposed to arise in the case of injury or illness, right? While that is true in most cases, pain can also appear in the absence of tissue damage. As we’ve learned today, a limbic system impairment can cause pain signals to inappropriately fire, leading to persistent pain symptoms in the absence of damage. If you have fibromyalgia or another chronic pain condition, it’s important to understand you did not cause it. Fibromyalgia is simply a conditioned response due to an impaired limbic system that occurs unconsciously, out of your control. Even more important to understand is that this condition is not permanent. You can undo the faulty wiring in your brain and make a full recovery with the help of re-origin. No one should have to live with fibromyalgia—and thankfully, you don’t have to! With our proprietary neuroplasticity training program, you can learn to undo the underlying cause of your chronic pain, putting an end to the symptoms you’re experiencing once and for all.

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/fibromyalgia#symptoms
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354780
  4. Woolf C. J. (2011). Central sensitization: implications for the diagnosis and treatment of pain. Pain, 152(3 Suppl), S2–S15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2010.09.030. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3268359/
  5. Rajmohan, V., & Mohandas, E. (2007). The limbic system. Indian journal of psychiatry, 49(2), 132–139. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.33264. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917081/
  6. Miguez, G., Laborda, M. A., & Miller, R. R. (2014). Classical conditioning and pain: conditioned analgesia and hyperalgesia. Acta psychologica, 145, 10–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2013.10.009
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354785
  8. Cardinal, T. M., Antunes, L. C., Brietzke, A. P., Parizotti, C. S., Carvalho, F., De Souza, A., da Silva Torres, I. L., Fregni, F., & Caumo, W. (2019). Differential Neuroplastic Changes in Fibromyalgia and Depression Indexed by Up-Regulation of Motor Cortex Inhibition and Disinhibition of the Descending Pain System: An Exploratory Study. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 138. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00138. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6494946/
  9. Nampiaparampil, D. E., & Shmerling, R. H. (2004). A review of fibromyalgia. The American journal of managed care, 10(11 Pt 1), 794–800.
  10. Kong, J., Huang, Y., Liu, J., Yu, S., Ming, C., Chen, H., Wilson, G., Harvey, W. F., Li, W., & Wang, C. (2021). Altered functional connectivity between hypothalamus and limbic system in fibromyalgia. Molecular Brain, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13041-020-00705-2. Available From: https://molecularbrain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13041-020-00705-2