You finally crawl into bed after a long and taxing day, looking forward to nothing more than a few blissful hours of sleep. Except, it’s not. Your body and muscles ache in weird ways and you feel odd prickles of pain all through the night. What’s going on?
It could be fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, but it’s not progressive or life-threatening. Nor does it have anything to do with muscle, nerve or joint injury, or any serious tissue damage or disease. People with fibromyalgia are not at greater risk for other musculoskeletal diseases.
Fibromyalgia is a muscular pain syndrome that results in back and muscle pain, fatigue, and specific tender areas on your body. You may have multiple tender spots where you feel pain. These include your neck, back, hips, shoulders, arms and legs.
Fibromyalgia pain causes your body to hurt all over, even when you’re not sick or injured. Studies suggest that it may be caused by the way your brain and spinal cord handle pain signals. This means that they may overreact to pain signals and cause exaggerated or unnecessary pain.
According to French researchers on the disease, fibromyalgia could be related to abnormal blood flow in specific areas of the brain. You may have more cells that carry pain signals than normal; and may also have fewer cells that slow down the pain signals. Think of music blasting on the highest volume… that’s your pain levels, they’re always up. Minor bumps and bruises may hurt more than they should; and you feel pain from things that shouldn’t hurt at all.
You may also experience:
- Trouble sleeping
- Sleeping for long periods without feeling rested
- Difficulty paying attention
- Pain or dull aching
Although fibromyalgia symptoms will probably never disappear completely, they often improve with treatment. Medications that can alter the balance of pain-producing chemicals, (antidepressants); improve symptoms by about 30%.
With other forms of therapy and regular exercise, greater improvement can be expected. Sometimes too, if the initial stress that caused the condition is managed, fibromyalgia may improve spontaneously and you might not need medication.
Low doses of antidepressant medication taken at bedtime may help you get that restful sleep you need. These meds may also perk up your mood, relax your muscles and reduce fatigue. Commonly prescribed antidepressants include amitriptyline (Tryptanol) and Imipramine (Tofranil).
At least half an hour of aerobic exercise at least four times a week has been shown to improve muscle fitness and significantly reduce muscle pain and tenderness. The bonus: exercise induces deep restful sleep. Low-impact aerobic exercises – think walking, cycling, swimming and water aerobics – are practical options.
Coping with stress
Identifying stress factors and learning how to cope can significantly help improve fibromyalgia symptoms. Make it a priority to learn and use relaxation techniques daily to manage anxiety, nerves, fear, and feeling overwhelmed. Go to a stress therapist for professional advice and tips. Anxiety and depression are often major contributors to stress. Don’t leave these unchecked!
- Arthritis or an infection increases your chances of developing fibromyalgia.
- Genetics play a role, as your parents may pass on genes that make you more sensitive to pain. Other genes may likely make you feel anxious or depressed, which can actually worsen pain.
- Children who’ve been physically and emotionally abused are more likely to have the condition when they grow up. This is because abuse changes the way the brain handles pain and stress.
- People who experience physical or emotional trauma may develop fibromyalgia. The condition has been linked with post-traumatic stress disorder.