Welcome to the first of our series of 6 articles about Fibromyalgia. in this 'episode' we dive into the fundamentals of Fibro.
The name was derived from the Latin word 'Fibro' or fibrous tissue and the Greek terms for 'Myo' or muscle and 'Algia' or pain, which describes the symptoms but not necessarily the cause. Fibromyalgia is currently classified under Rheumatology. And if we were to define what Rheumatology is, as described by the Mayo clinic, as an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that causes your immune system to attack your joints, muscles, bones and organs.
But Fibromyalgia is not technically considered an autoimmune or an inflammatory disease, at least not with primary Fibromyalgia. So what is it? The pain is not a result of the stimuli felt from the body being harmed. In other words, it's not an issue with the tissues. So how do we best describe Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia, as we are learning may have two different types. As stated by Jill Mueller, MD, 'the latest research is now suggesting the possibility of two types of Fibromyalgia - primary (what we are discussing in this post) and secondary. Secondary Fibro occurs when there is an underlying inflammatory condition within the body eg. Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc that sets up the process for the development of FM symptoms. This just emphasizes the need for a thorough investigation to rule out underlying conditions.'
In simple terms, we can describe Primary Fibro as a hyper vigilance disorder, which is more or less an issue of the processing of pain by the brain. Essentially our brain learns pain overtime and many of the pain behaviours that happen as a result of prolonged pain, only strengthens the pain response making the nervous system even more sensitive or hypervigilant.
What are the precursors to Primary Fibromyalgia? From what we know so far, there may be a slight tie in to our genetics. There may be some who have more of a propensity towards Fibro due to their genetic blueprint. But by and large, Primary Fibromyalgia's antecedant is prolonged exposure to stress or trauma in early life which over time, can lead to Fibromyalgia.
We also know that infection can often lead to Fibromyalgia as well. The Epstein-Barr virus, and the viruses that cause influenza, and hepatitis B and C have all been linked to the development of Fibromyalgia.
When the neurological system is learning pain early on, and over time, it can become locked in this sympathetic dominant loop. In other words, your nervous system is always feeling there is a threat...which over time leads to physical consequences and a nervous system that is over worked and under payed! When living with chronic pain, over time, the brain actually learns pain and pain behaviours (focusing on the pain, wincing, talking about the pain, fear of movement, avoidance, frustration, muscle tension, tears, withdrawing from favourite activities) all add up and become stronger over time.
If pain is coming from a hypervigilant nervous system (primary Fibromyalgia), is there anything we can do to help mitigate the pain beyond the medication? The good news is...yes! We may never cure Fibro or get rid of the pain completely but it is possible to turn that pain into something more manageable. Our brains are incredibly resilient and plastic (neuroplasticity)....which means that given the right tools, a change of thinking, understanding the underlying issues, and getting the appropriate help, the brain can begin to heal and the nervous system calmed.
Stay tuned for more articles on Fibromyalgia and self care techniques!