Fibromyalgia is an extremely uncomfortable and painful condition that not only has obvious symptoms such as increased sensitivity and levels of pain, but can also have a major effect on a persons mental and emotional health and well-being, and consequently their quality of life as a whole.
At this time there is no known cure for fibromyalgia.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic (long-term) condition that can cause pain and tenderness over much of the body.
Fibromyalgia is quite common – up to 1 in 25 people may be affected.
In the past the condition was described in different ways, such as muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. The condition may even have been misdiagnosed as degenerative joint disease.
It is now know that fibromyalgia is not linked to inflammatory or degenerative arthritis, even though the symptoms may sometimes be very similar.
Fibromyalgia does not cause any lasting damage to the body’s tissues. However, despite increased levels of pain it is important to keep as active as possible, in order to avoid weakening of the muscles which could lead to other problems.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
What causes fibromyalgia is not known, but research suggests that there is an interaction between physical, neurological and psychological factors.
Pain is often affected by moods and emotions; depression or anxiety, for example, can make pain seem worse. At the same time pain has an effect on emotional states and can lead to stress, worry or low mood. Pain and emotional state can play off against each other and create a negative and worsening cycle.
Typically pain is experienced when part of the body is damaged, or through physical injury as is the case with arthritis. Pain with fibromyalgia feels different because it is not directly caused by damage or injury. Instead there is a problem with the way the brain and nervous system process pain from the affected area. This does not mean the pain is any less real, but because there is no physical damage pain cannot be relieved through healing. This is why the pain from fibromyalgia can be long-lasting.
Research has shown that people with fibromyalgia are more physically sensitive to physical pressure and tactile sensation. What would be a relatively minor knock for most people can be extremely painful for someone with fibromyalgia.
Sleep disturbance may also contribute to this increased sensitivity. Brainwave studies show that people with fibromyalgia often lose the ability to sleep deeply.
It may be interesting to note that in an experiment where healthy volunteers were woken during each period of deep sleep, a number of them developed the typical signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia.
A number of factors may contribute to sleep disturbance:
- ongoing experience of pain
- stress at work or home
- difficulties in personal relationships
- low mood state and depression
- poor routines and habits (possibly pointing to other psychological issues)
People with fibromyalgia often report their symptoms started after an illness, an accident, or following a period of emotional stress and anxiety. Although others may not recall any particular event leading up to the onset of symptoms
Not surprisingly, a combination of pain, sleep disturbance and anxiety or depression can turn into a vicious cycle. Poor sleep will contribute to the severe tiredness that often goes with fibromyalgia.
Treatments for Fibromyalgia.
Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia there are ways of managing the symptoms.
Your doctor may suggest treatments and therapies to tackle specific aspects of the condition. These may include drug treatments but physical and other therapies are just as important or even more so.
I personally am inclined to advise clients to try the alternatives before they give in to the drug therapies suggested by their physicians. I recommend any treatment that enables the individual to relax and de-stress more of the time, and to effectively control mood state; particularly negative emotional states such as stress and depression. I have found in my work with fibromyalgia that any unresourceful or negative mood states can be triggers to acute and painful episodes as a result of this condition.
Drugs for Fibromyalgia
Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help with pain, sleep disturbance or depression associated with fibromyalgia. Drug treatments will not cure fibromyalgia and usually do not completely get rid of the pain. They can be helpful in reducing the symptoms to a manageable level however, that in severe cases could allow some gentle physical activity and rehabilitation therapies.
As with all drugs, some people will have side-effects so it’s important to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. As a general rule drug treatments should not be continued unless they are providing ongoing benefit.
Personally I would always advise a different course of action to manage the symptoms wherever possible.
Physical Therapies for Fibromyalgia
Your doctor could refer you to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist for further treatment and advice.
Physiotherapy can help improve posture, physical function and quality of life, and gradually increase physical activity where necessary.
Occupational therapy can help the management of everyday activities without an increase in pain; pacing activities without reaching physical overload.
Pain clinics may offer a pain management programme. The programme may not take the pain away but it could help lessen the impact on your life. A pain specialist may suggest specific treatments which can help reduce pain so that you can begin rehabilitation therapies offered by other members of the team.
Pain is never a purely physical experience, especially if it lasts a long time. Pain can affect your mood, making you feel sad, anxious, frustrated, angry or afraid. Your emotional response to pain can affect your behaviour. Fear that movement will increase your pain may lead you to avoid activity. This, in turn, can affect aspects of your physical health, for example weakened muscles through lack of use.
Psychological approaches to pain management aim to address the emotional aspects of pain. When thoughts, habits (behaviour), physical sensations and emotions are so closely linked it can be overwhelming. Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) often focus on separating out these different aspects of your experience of pain, breaking the problem down into more manageable chunks. Hypnotherapy may follow a similar route with the advantage of working simultaneously on more than one area at any one time i.e. pain management, emotional management and coping strategies.
Making a small change in one area, crucially the area of pain management for example , can improve both your emotional well-being and your physical health so that you can get more out of life.
Psychological therapies, such as hypnotherapy, also include techniques for relaxation, coping with stress, accepting that you can’t always do the things you want to, and not being too hard on yourself (self-compassion) even if you do feel frustrated. I like to empower the individual using self-help techniques such as self-hypnosis and meditation. Knowing you are able to manage the symptoms of your condition will reduce stress, aid relaxation, encourage better and deeper sleep and help counteract feelings of hopelessness and frustration.
Hypnotherapy, Self-hypnosis and Meditation
I believe hypnosis and meditation offer some of the most effective means to manage many of the negative symptoms of fibromyalgia. I use hypnosis and teach meditation/self-hypnosis techniques to encourage increased relaxation, better and deeper sleep, and managing and improving mood and emotional states to reduce painful episodes and reactions.
I have found that many ‘negative’ emotional responses to fibromyalgia not only increase the perception of pain (how painful it feels) but they can also act as ‘triggers’ to acute episodes of pain.
I have worked with more than one individual who could trigger a painful episode, as well as an increase in pain simply by allowing themselves to become angry or frustrated by their circumstances. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed or hopeless can have a similar effect.
Meditation could be considered to be a form of self-hypnosis. Most meditation techniques (there are more than one to choose from) can be learnt in a matter of a few hours with consistent practise. They are simple and easy to learn. Some meditations can be surprisingly short and therefore easier to incorporate into a busy schedule. I also offer recorded exercises and guided visualisations to help acclimatise and establish the habit of meditating on a regular basis.
The added advantage of using hypnosis and meditation techniques is that they are drug free, and there is NO chance of experiencing any adverse side effects. Although some anti-depressants can be helpful for some people, for others they can lead to an increase in negative thoughts and feelings.
A research study report published in 2008 investigated the effect of hypnotic suggestions on the experience of pain by Fibromyalgia (FMS) sufferers.
The study was carried out by Stuart W.G. Derbyshire (School of Psychology, University of Birmingham), Matthew G. Whalley and David A. Oakley (both from the Department of Psychology, Hypnosis Unit, University College London).
The study findings were reported in the European Journal of Pain
The article notes that “Suggestion following a hypnotic induction can readily modulate the subjective experience of pain.”
And “patients claimed significantly more control over their pain and reported greater pain reduction when hypnotised.”
Article source: http://www.hypnosisunit.com/assets/files/Derbyshire2009.pdf
If you have any questions about fibromyalgia or how hypnotic techniques can help manage pain, or if I can help in any other way please contact me or request a call back.
You should consult your GP for advice, diagnosis and treatment for medical conditions, and always inform your primary healthcare professional before starting any complementary or additional therapies or treatments.