All in Your Head? Fibromyalgia as a Neurological Disorder

Once thought to be muscular in nature, Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a neurological disorder that involves the brain’s communication with the body’s pain receptors, via the spinal cord. Essentially, it is like the volume in the part of the brain that perceives pain is “turned up,” causing even mild stimulus, such as light touch, to register as painful. Fibromyalgia affects primarily women, ages 40-60, though some men, young adults, and teenage children may be affected as well. Characteristic symptoms include widespread pain and extreme sensitivity to touch, in addition to fatigue, disturbed sleep patterns, impaired memory and the ability to focus.

While the pain of osteoarthritis is due to the breakdown of cartilage around the joints and supporting muscle tissues, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease characterized by stiffness and inflammation of muscles and joints. By contrast, the pain of Fibromyalgia comes and goes, often moves throughout the body, and is unrelated to inflammation or the wear and tear of age. It is for this reason that FMS patients gain little relief from traditional drug therapies.

In a study conducted by the Mayo Foundation for Education and Research, 39 FMS patients were interviewed with regard to their symptoms and corresponding 6-12 prescription medications. Ten years later, 29 of these patients were interviewed again. While 55% reported severe pain and stiffness, 48% reported disturbed sleep, and 59% reported persistent, extreme fatigue, an overwhelming 79% were still taking the same or similar medications as they were 10 years ago.

In addition to being ineffective, prescription medications may also deplete the body of essential nutrients—the ramifications of which may take years to manifest—as well as the sleep hormone melatonin, which further contributes to disrupted sleep patterns. In fact, the majority of prescribed medications come with side-effects that mimic the symptoms they are meant to relieve—fatigue, pain, brain fog—yet patients continue to take them because the alternative if giving up.

Or so they think. Here at Restorative Health Clinic, we are happy to offer another alternative: recovery! By approaching the condition from a holistic perspective that accounts for all aspects of the patient’s lifestyle—to include nutrition, supplementation, exercise, sleep, and work patterns—our naturopathic physicians lend the necessary support for patients to manage their symptoms and embark on the long journey back to health. Read next week for further information on specific therapies available to our patients, to include supplemental, injection, and intravenous therapies.