So what exactly is Fibromyalgia? People with fibromyalgia experience pain throughout their body. This pain may be accompanied by other symptoms that can vary from fatigue to irritable bowel syndrome to brain fog. In the past, many female patients that complained of this general feeling of pain and fatigue were thought to be experiencing symptoms of stress or other psychological issues. Today, fortunately, this is now understood to be a true disease that affects a significant portion of the population. Fibromyalgia not only produces pain but generally lowers the quality of someone’s life.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. This pain can feel like a dull ache or it can feel like a stabbing pain. This pain can be in any combination of places such as the hips, shoulders, back of the head, or in any of 18 areas of the body that are called “pain points”. In addition to the pain, patients also frequently experience severe fatigue, numbness in the feet or hands, restless leg syndrome, brain fog, or even irritable bowel syndrome.
In order to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a patient must usually experience these symptoms for at least three months. This helps rule out other more temporary conditions that could be bringing on similar symptoms.
How Functional Medicine Looks at Fibromyalgia
Conventional medicine tends to approach treating fibromyalgia with medications meant to alleviate symptoms. These could include pain medications or antidepressants. Although this approach could reduce the symptoms during a flare up, they do little to reduce the likelihood of future flare ups.
On the other hand, Functional Medicine practitioners are looking for the root causes of your symptoms. By addressing the root causes of your symptoms, the functional medicine approach can not only reduce the immediate pain but can also reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks.
Possible Root Causes of Fibromyalgia
Everyone is different and the root cause of one person’s fibromyalgia might not be the root cause for a different person. There are many possible causes and they must all be evaluated when determining the appropriate treatment protocol for any individual.
Among the most common root causes are the following:
- Thyroid issues are often associated with fibromyalgia. Correcting thyroid imbalances can reduce fatigue, depression, brain fog and poor sleep.
- Toxicity is frequently associated with fibromyalgia. This toxicity can come from a variety of sources. In some cases, it is caused by mercury toxicity. Mercury toxicity can be associated with a high consumption of seafood or with mercury amalgam fillings. Depending on a person’s genetics, they may be more highly susceptible to these forms of toxicity since certain genetic markers, like MTHFR, reduce a person’s ability to detoxify when exposed to environmental toxins.
- Food sensitivities to substances like gluten can increase the incidence of fibromyalgia. This could be partially due to the increase in gut permeability (known as leaky gut) that is caused by consumption of foods containing gluten or other irritants that affect the lining of the gut. Leaky gut is a “set up” for autoimmune disease, and fibromyalgia is exactly that.
As you can see, there is no one cause that is responsible for all individuals. Each individual patient must be diagnosed based on their blood panels and lifestyle considerations. Looking at thyroid, toxins, and other lifestyle considerations is the only way to get at each person’s “root cause”.
Reducing the Pain of Fibromyalgia
While finding a patient’s individual “root cause” is critical, there is also an immediate need to reduce the widespread pain that is a constant reminder of the presence of this disease. This is another area where conventional medicine and functional medicine tend to go in different directions. Conventional medicine usually starts with medication. In the area of pain relief, medication often causes as much pain as it does relieve pain. Even the more benign pain relievers, such as Tylenol or Advil, have huge potential side effects. And the stronger medications can be a set-up for addiction. In some cases, these strong medications might be warranted, but they should only be used after first trying some safer approaches to pain relief.
An excellent starting point for the relief of pain in fibromyalgia is acupuncture.
Clinical Study Demonstrates Acupuncture Reduces Pain of Fibromyalgia
A clinical study was run to determine whether acupuncture relieved the pain of fibromyalgia and whether the pain relief lasted beyond the actual time frame of the acupuncture treatments. A randomized controlled multicenter trial, blinded to participants and to data analysts was conducted. Participants were either given acupuncture or were given sham acupuncture (a procedure that looked like acupuncture but wasn’t actually a real treatment).
The study concluded that ”Individualized acupuncture treatment in primary care in patients with fibromyalgia proved efficacious in terms of pain relief, compared with placebo treatment. The effect persisted at 1 year, and its side effects were mild and infrequent. Therefore, the use of individualized acupuncture in patients with fibromyalgia is recommended.”
What this “means” is this. Patients that received the acupuncture had a statistically significant reduction in their pain compared to patients that did not receive the real acupuncture treatments. In addition, when these same patients were observed a year later, that pain relief was still present and was also statistically significant. In fact, the study ended with a recommendation that acupuncture should be used by primary care physicians for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
What You Should Do if You Think You Suffer from Fibromyalgia
First, get evaluated by a functional medicine practitioner. Let your practitioner evaluate your individual situation and determine the likely “root cause” of your fibromyalgia. While treating this root cause, consider a course of acupuncture by a practitioner experienced in treating fibromyalgia. This one-two punch will both treat the actual root causes of your disease but will also give you immediate relief from the widespread pain associated with the disease.
Fibromyalgia is treatable and you do not need to suffer from this painful disease. Treating the root cause while reducing the pain by using a clinically proven approach, acupuncture, will greatly improve the quality of your life.