There is a good chance you may never have heard of the debilitating illness ‘fibromyalgia’, although current estimates suggest as many as one in every 20 people in the UK is affected by it. This may be because it is one of the many ‘invisible illnesses’ where, due to the lack of visual signs of illness such as rashes, slings and bandages, it can be difficult to understand how ill somebody is just by looking at them.
Typically fibromyalgia develops between the ages of 30 and 50 but it can occur at any age and is even found in children and the elderly.
It disproportionally affects women more than men, with women being seven times more likely to be affected.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The core symptoms of fibromyalgia are
A heightened experience of pain and often headaches
Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
Muscle and joint stiffness
Problems with getting restful sleep
Fibro-fog, or brain fog, where mental processing seems harder and less effective resulting in problems with memory and concentration
Issues with sensitive digestion and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
The condition is considered by many experts to be caused by issues of signal processing in the nervous system. This means a normal signal from the muscles, such as slight tension, which normally the brain would ignore, is somehow amplified by the nervous system. This makes the brain pay much more attention to it and it is interpreted as a threat, which results in it being experienced his pain. This is similar to what happens when we are sunburnt where the lightest touch now produces a much more serious experience of pain than it would do if our skin and nervous system was in a normal, settled, calm un-sunburnt state.
Currently, there is no well-researched treatment that has found to be effective. Medical approaches include the prescription of antidepressants and painkillers. These help with symptoms but don’t address the underlying neurophysiological issues of the condition of how to settle down the nervous system so it can interpret signals in a more appropriate way.
Recent research is now suggesting that approaches that address how the mind can affect the brain and the body such as mindfulness, yoga and the Lightning Process might provide useful solutions for some (Parker et al., 2020; Van Gordon et al., 2017)
If you’d like to learn more about how the brain processes pain and how you can learn to reduce that sensitivity then please watch my video on the subject.
I do hope that if you or someone close to you is suffering from this condition you found this useful.