On YouTube, I came across a nearly-two=hour video titled “Mini Medical School: Fibromyalgia.” I’ve seen previous fibromyalgia videos but haven’t watched much because, after all, I have fibro and have been to multiple doctors regarding diagnosis and treatment. Over and over, I’ve been told that there is nothing to be done besides taking prescription medicine, either Lyrica or gabapentin. Those are supposed to lessen the fibro pain.
Speaking of which, I learned there are eight types of fibromyalgia pain. I’ve known them personally and for many years, but I didn’t know of the classifications:
- Hyperalgesia – hyper meaning more and algesia meaning pain. When the pain response reaches the brain, the volume is turned up. The pain is felt stronger than normal.
- Allodynia – Abnormal pain in response to a non-painful stimulation on the skin, e.g. a very light touch, something brushing up against the skin, or pain from heat or cold, I vividly remember my ten-year-old son poking my forearm and I responded by jerking my arm away and loudly exclaiming “OUCH!” My son said, “What? I barely touched you!” and I answered, “Well, it really hurt!”
- Painful parasthesia – prickling pain characterized by numbness, tingling, and clumsiness, much like when your leg “falls asleep” because it’s been in an odd position for an extended period of time. With fibro, it occurs randomly.
- Visceral pain – from viscera, the abdominal organs. Feels like an uncomfortable sensation in the midriff, perhaps moving across. This occurs for me if I stretch or twist. For many, many years it has seemed as though I can feel my anxiety or stress in my diaphragm area, a large knot just below the sternum.
- Neuropathic pain – itching, burning, and numbness. The most frequent sensation of neuropathic pain I experience is feeling like the top of my feet have been scalded under hot water, but nothing eases the pain.
- Costochondritis – pain in the chest caused by inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the sternum. It can be mild or it can be mistaken for a heart attack. It may be described as burning or stabbing. I have this symptom frequently and I can feel the inflammation of the tissues.
- Joint pain – joints throughout the body can feel swollen and painful, perhaps limiting mobility. This is very common with fibro. Many fibro patients are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Temperomandibular joint pain, affecting the jaw and ear, is also common. Personally, I was diagnosed with TMJ at age 22 but I thought it was just the latest fad and ignored the dentist’s opinion. I’ve been breaking molars since I was 26. Crowns galore. I also have widespread osteoarthritis.
- Headache – tension headaches or migraines frequently plague fibro patients. Headache pain may surface as 1. sharp, pulsing pain 2. pain on one side of the head 3. Pain that spreads to the neck and shoulders, 100% of the time for me. 4. pain at the back of the head and nape 5. Nausea 6. Sensitivity to light, sound, or smell.
Since 2009, I’ve not met a physician who could give me any hope about dealing with fibromyalgia, including a top rheumatologist in town during 2016. This Mini Medical School was sponsored by UCTV (University of California TV) and the lecturer was a doctor from UCSF. Turns, out there has been a lot, I mean A LOT, of research, findings, and publications regarding fibromyalgia. It is well studied with real data showing clearly that fibromyalgia is a neurological condition.
The source of the issue is deep in the brain, the amygdala. It regulates our most basic human needs and lets us know when we’re threatened, initiating the fight, flight, or freeze response. Stress hormones flood the body and cause a traffic jam in the central nervous system. With fibromyalgia, an early life event triggers a major stress response and this, in turn, leads to miscommunication between the amygdala and pain receptors. If there is no threat to be faced or from which to be chased, those hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, damage the systems of the body: vascular, respiratory, dermatological, auditory, muscles, gastrointestinal region, thyroid and pituitary glands as well as erosion of the coating of nerve endings themselves.
The first step, then, is to calm down the abnormal stress response. Strategies for this can include regulating healthy breathing, stretching, herbal supplements that support the central nervous system, five minutes in the sun each day, meditation, practicing hobbies that bring pleasure, etc. We’ve heard about these methods for improving mental health, pain sensations, and quality of life; but here is a basic stepping stone of human life that literally is in overdrive and must be controlled in order for any healing to occur throughout the other systems of the body.
A serious illness, injury, or very stressful circumstance are typical loci for the onset of fibromyalgia. I believc a serious illness requiring hospitalization at age 11 is the most likely source for me, 46 years ago. Symptoms developed regularly over the years, before I even got out of high school. In my case, my body has been in flight vs fight mode with overproduction of stress hormones for nearly five decades. I don’t know how long it may take to clear the traffic in my brain but I am going to focus on this because I haven’t had any idea how to possibly positively affect the condition my condition is in up to now. This is the reason why I didn’t push myself to write and publish this post. I’m giving myself grace and repeating my new mantra, “No need for fight or flight.” In the meantime, I’ll look forward to receiving my mini diploma from the mini medical school.