MYTHBUSTERS Series - Fibromyalgia (Pt 1)

Words have an extraordinary potential to evoke thoughts, emotions and even physical responses in us. Particularly words to do with your personal health. Fibromyalgia tends to be one of those words.

Up to 1 in 20 Aussies are thought to have the condition, yet I would be extremely surprised if even 1 in 100 Aussies could explain what it is! So we encourage you to read on, take the fear out of this word, dispel the myths you have heard or read, and learn that it’s not as scary as it sounds!

First of all, what is it?

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One thing it is NOT is a disease. Fibromyalgia is simply the name given to a common group of symptoms marked by generalised pain and stiffness. It can also be characterised by fatigue, disturbed sleep, depression, anxiety and concentration problems. These symptoms will vary and fluctuate depending on a number of factors.

There are no specific causes or no specific tests or scans to diagnose, so doctors will rely on patterns of these symptoms to diagnose the condition. So more accurately, fibromyalgia is actually a disorder rather than a disease.

What is it a disorder of?

Despite the predominant symptom being pain in the muscles and joints there is rarely ever any inflammation or damage to the painful areas. This is because it is a disorder of the central nervous system (CNS), or brain, where all sensory information is processed, including pain. The pain areas of the CNS become overactive and hence you feel pain more intensely at lower levels.

How does the CNS become overactive?

Currently, it isn’t known what triggers fibromyalgia. However it tends to be more common in people who have inflammatory arthritis or an illness such as a virus (or post-illness), after an injury or trauma and in people undergoing emotional stress or depression. You may have heard ‘Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease’.

This is NOT TRUE. Although some people may have an autoimmune disease as well as fibromyalgia there is no evidence to classify the disorder in that category.

Another common, disabling myth is that there is no treatment for fibromyalgia. This is partly propagated by the fact there are no PBS approved drugs for the condition. Despite this, there are plenty of ways to manage the condition, and manage it well.

The three biggest things you can do to manage the symptoms involved with fibromyalgia are

1. Stay active – This can be difficult with pain and fatigue, but some light exercise (especially in a warm pool) each day will help greatly.

2. Maintain a balance of activity and rest Stress will have a huge impact on pain levels. Take time to rest, this not only rejuvenates your body, but your brain too.

3. Keeping a healthy weight – Excess weight will only increase strain and load on already sensitive muscles and joints. Also, good nutrition will keep your body nourished and happy

Physiotherapy and massage therapy can also be helpful adjuncts to these self-management strategies, so if you need help with getting started with these things, we’d love to help out.

If you would like to do some more informed reading on the topic, these websites are reliable and offer easy to understand information

      OR for something a little more indepth

By Chris Stoddard