Archive for "May, 2017"

How Fibromyalgia Pain Relates to Other Pain Conditions

blog, Pain Management May 18, 2017 No Comments

Pain is not something we’re particularly inclined to like, as its intended function is to be something we actively avoid and work against. But there is such a thing as useful pain. Pain that teaches us valuable lessons in life, like avoiding fire and minding our step.

But there is some pain that has absolutely no use, and no meaning. Medically, that pain is part of a series of disorders – conditions like fibromyalgia, which plagues roughly 5 million American adults. These people must live with chronic fatigue, constant soreness, and the combined blight of widespread pain and a heightened awareness towards it. We don’t know what causes this disease. We don’t know what cures it. But we have learned to help people deal with it, and live meaningful lives.

To properly understand this affliction, it’s important to first tackle how pain itself works – and why fibromyalgia is a massive physical ailment with system-wide consequences. We must first understand how fibromyalgia pain relates to other pain conditions before we can understand how to relieve this pain.

What It Means To Be In Pain

The human body processes stimuli and undergoes a series of brain functions to classify the experience and determine how to react to it. When you experience something pleasant, like a hug from someone you care about, your body interprets it accordingly by releasing certain neurochemicals that make us “feel” a certain way. It gets more complicated than that when you enter the realm of psychology and personality, but from a neurological perspective, it’s a mechanical process.

When the body experiences harmful stimuli, the brain receives a different kind of signal, one that lets it know that there’s a potential danger nearby. Before you can even think about contextualizing the pain, the body and your brain react instantly with irritation, or fear, or a reflexive action such as backing away or flinching. In some cases, pain activates our inner fight or flight response, and the release of adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

From an evolutionary standpoint, certain things make us feel pain so we can learn to avoid them. This ranges from something as obviously dangerous and malicious as a powerful smack to the head to something as unexpected as social rejection. When we feel pain, our initial reaction is not to like it, and then we can act on that info. Simple, and effective.

It gets more complicated on a person-to-person basis, though. Pain is generally objective, but the individual experience is subjective. What you consider painful will be different from what your spouse may consider painful, and tolerance levels for pain change from person to person. We also experience pain differently depending on our mood and emotional stability, our psychological state, our expectations of incoming pain, and quite significantly, the various experiences we might’ve had with pain in the past. Generally-speaking, pain can be split between “physical” pain (nociceptive), generated by a cut, a bruise, a broken bone or another injury; neuropathic pain, which isn’t generated by damage to the body but instead direct interaction with the nerves (nerve damage, spinal cord damage, pain disorders); and psychogenic pain, which is a feeling applied to existing pain by deep psychological troubles and worsening expectations.

While pain is meant to be our cautionary friend in most cases, there are times when it’s not quite so effective at doing its job of keeping us safe and healthy. In this case, the body and pain have a long-term toxic relationship, rather than the ideal distant acquaintance.

On Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia pain is a full-body affliction that primarily affects your muscles and connective tissue, and the main symptom reported by those suffering from the condition is widespread chronic (more than 12 weeks) pain. In addition, fibromyalgia pain comes with weakness, nerve pain, muscle spasms and twitching, sleep disturbance and fatigue, and a heightened reaction to physical contact and touch (more pain).

While it affects the muscles and connective tissue, fibromyalgia is a disease of the brain. No one knows concretely what causes it other than an individual and subjective combination of genetics and environmental (lifestyle) factors, and there is no direct cure for the disease either. What basically happens when it develops is that your nervous system malfunctions and begins to sense pain when really there shouldn’t be any, and any painful stimuli are made much more powerfully repellent.

This is a neurological disorder, rather than a psychiatric one, and it’s a disorder with such capacity for widespread emotional damage that dealing with it can be an absolute nightmare.

Fibromyalgia is at its core a problem with pain reception, but it’s also very often part of a comorbidity: the combination of different related afflictions. For example, the chronic pain from fibromyalgia can cause chronic headaches, myofascial pain syndrome (constant muscle soreness), and other forms of rheumatoid pain including arthritis in the joints. Like a multiplier, any acute pain or syndrome you’re suffering from is felt more intensely under fibromyalgia pain. A few common comorbidities for fibromyalgia include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
  • Arthritis

These are forms of inflammation physical irritation, heightening the body’s sense of pain. This is factored in by the body on top of any subjective thoughts, attitudes and experiences you may already have regarding pain – the result is a chronic condition that can affect you either in a localized fashion (severe hip or shoulder pain, or a specific muscle soreness) or in a general fashion.

Dulling the Hurt

As mentioned previously, there is no direct cure for fibromyalgia pain currently available, but there are several non-steroidal and corticosteroid painkillers available per prescription and over-the-counter to combat the chronic pain brought along by fibromyalgia.

Like so many other pain conditions, the danger with this one is that constant pain is bound to complicate the emotional and psychiatric health of many patients, which only further deepens the possible pain and encourages the use of maladaptive coping strategies like addiction and reckless behavior to take the edge off.

Aside from medication, what seems to work best is a lifestyle change. The inflammatory symptoms and increased pain can be managed properly by following a strictly healthy living regimen, including:

  • A diet of fresh food, especially nutrient-rich vegetables and fresh seafood.
  • Regular albeit moderate exercise, to improve the body’s neurochemical balance and stave off muscle weakness.
  • Consistent and long sleep, to ensure as much rest as possible.
  • Movement therapies like tai chi and yoga to raise awareness and body control, useful for mentally dulling out the pain.

Every case is different, and every proposed pain management plan must be catered to the patient’s means, symptoms, and total diagnosis. While fibromyalgia isn’t curable, it is highly treatable and manageable, and a lot of people live with it without medication, relying simply on physical and psychological therapy to overcome the pain. Some rely on alternative treatments like acupuncture and cupping therapy. Like chronic pain in general, it’s a long and tough road – but it’s most definitely a life worth living.


Comprehensive Pain Management Center