Fibromyalgia is an interesting illness in the sense that it often presents body-wide pain despite the absence of any mechanical injuries or deformities. Patients often experience systemic pain that is exacerbated by sensitive trigger points. The very nature of the illness makes it challenging to treat.
Unfortunately, treating fibromyalgia pain isn’t as easy as treating a headache or toothache. It doesn’t help that fibromyalgia still isn’t fully understood by the medical community. Until research zeros in on the exact cause of the condition, doctors and their patients must do their best to manage chronic pain.
A Nervous System Disorder
Hundreds of years ago, fibromyalgia was considered a form of muscular rheumatism. The thinking on fibromyalgia evolved to where doctors believed it was caused by inflammation. When that theory was proven wrong, the thinking changed again. Medical experts started believing that the illness was psychosomatic in nature.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that fibromyalgia was accepted as a legitimate illness. But even then, it was thought to be an autoimmune disease. We now know that this is not the case. The most recent research points to fibromyalgia being a nervous system disorder.
Fibromyalgia patients have a tendency to display overly sensitive central nervous systems. Their nerves are hypersensitive to all sorts of stimulation, resulting in pain signals when stimulation is more than the nervous system can handle. Therein lies the difficulty of treating fibromyalgia pain.
Mechanical Treatments Don’t Work
Assuming fibromyalgia is related to a hypersensitive central nervous system, that would explain why mechanical treatments do not work so well. To understand this more easily, just compare fibromyalgia pain to the pain caused by degenerative disc disease.
Degenerating discs in the back are a mechanical issue. As the discs degenerate, bones in the spinal column begin to make contact with one another. Additional pain is caused when those bones press on nerves. Here’s the thing: the source of this kind of pain can be identified.
The pain specialists at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, TX say that degenerative disc disease can be treated effectively by way of discography, medial and lumbar blocks, and other treatments that focus on the mechanical issues.
Unfortunately, there is nothing mechanical that doctors can look at when treating fibromyalgia. Thus, something like a medial branch block would be largely ineffective. To offer real relief, medical science has to find a way to address the central nervous system.
Current Pain Treatments for Fibromyalgia
So, how does modern medicine treat fibromyalgia pain? Treatments are divided into four main categories: medication, therapy, alternative medicine, and lifestyle changes. Here are the basics of each one:
- Medications – Pain relievers are the first line of defense against fibromyalgia pain. Drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are often recommended. In some cases, doctors might recommend antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs.
- Therapy – Physical therapy is often recommended as a way to keep the patient’s body strong and limber. Occupational therapy helps patients make adjustments to their daily activities, while counseling can help patients better cope with pain.
- Alternative Medicine – Alternative medicine options for fibromyalgia patients include massage therapy, acupuncture, and yoga.
- Lifestyle Changes – Given that fibromyalgia has no cure, doctors almost always recommend lifestyle changes that include regular exercise and a healthy diet. Other lifestyle changes are intended to reduce stress, improve sleep, and offer coping mechanisms.
Fibromyalgia pain is difficult to treat because medical science still doesn’t know its root cause. That does not mean fibromyalgia isn’t real. To the contrary, it is very real. For now, our limited knowledge also limits our ability to treat the illness effectively.