Fibromyalgia: A Whole Body Approach

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Fibromyalgia is a complicated disorder that’s difficult to diagnose because it involves multiple body systems. As a result, there are a myriad of factors in the body that can play a role in a patient’s symptoms. That said, it’s best to take a whole body approach when it comes to treating a complex condition like FM, starting with the nervous system.

When a patient presents to a chiropractor, the initial examination will look at the body as a whole and will not be limited the main area of complaint. This includes a postural examination in regards to individual leg length (to see if one is shorter); the height of the pelvis, shoulder, and occiput (head); and a gait assessment to evaluate the function of the foot, ankle, knee, hip/pelvis, spine, and head.

Because the nervous system is housed in the spine and cranium, chiropractors specifically look at how the spine compensates for abnormal function elsewhere in the body. When spinal segmental dysfunction is present, altered neurological function often coincides, which results in the symptoms that drive people to the office.

The benefits of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT)—the primary form of treatment delivered by doctors of chiropractic—have been recognized by all other healthcare professions including medical doctors, physical therapists, and osteopathic physicians. In fact, referring patients to chiropractors for SMT has become very commonplace in the healthcare environment. Research has proven SMT to be a FIRST course of care and highly recommended for MANY complaints, especially low back, mid-back, and neck pain, headaches, and many more!

Because fibromyalgia (FM) involves the WHOLE BODY—hence its definition of “wide spread pain,” chiropractic offers a unique approach because it too benefits the whole body by restoring function to the nervous system. For example, when balance is off due to a short leg (this affects 90% of the population to some degree), it can tilt the pelvis, which then places stress on the spine so that it must curve (scoliosis) to keep the head level. Correcting the short leg with a heel lift can restore balance to the pelvis, take pressure off the spine, and relieve some of a patient’s pain symptoms.

In prior articles, we have looked at the many benefits chiropractic offers the FM patient in addition to SMT and other manual therapies. Some of these include tips for improving sleep, exercise training (very important in managing FM), diet—specifically an anti-inflammatory diet (rich in anti-oxidants)—and supplementation (such as magnesium, malic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, Co-enzyme Q10, and more).

Most importantly, studies show that the FM patient is BEST served when a “team” of healthcare professionals work together on behalf of the FM patient. Depending on a patient’s needs, the team can include a doctor of chiropractic, a primary care doctor, a massage therapist, a clinical psychologist, and others.

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What can I do for my Fibromyalgia pain?

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Fibromyalgia (FM) is a very common condition affecting approximately ten million Americans (2-4% of the population)—with a ratio of about four women to each man with the disease. Part of the diagnosis and treatment challenge is that many of the complaints associated with FM occur in ALL of us at some point, such as fatigue, generalized whole body aches/pains, non-restorative sleep, depression, anxiety, etc. So what is the difference between the FM sufferer and those without it? Let’s take a look!

The primary distinction between patients with FM and the “rest of us” has to do with the word “chronic.” This term means “…persisting for a long time or constantly recurring; long-standing, long-term.” In fact, the term “fibromyalgia” is described as a complex chronic pain disorder that causes widespread pain and tenderness that may present body wide or migrate around the body. It is also known to “wax and wane over time,” meaning it flares up and down, off and on.

The diagnosis of FM is typically made by eliminating every other possible cause. Hence, after blood tests and x-ray or other imaging, the ABSENCE of other problems helps nail down the diagnosis of “primary fibromyalgia.” Then there is “secondary fibromyalgia,” which is DUE TO a known disorder or condition such as after trauma (like a car accident), rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headache, irritable bowel syndrome, “GERD” (which is heart burn due to reflux), pelvic pain, overactive bladder, tempromandibular joint dysfunction (jaw pain, with or without ringing in the ears), or stress. It’s also often accompanied by anxiety, depression, and/or some other mental health condition.

It should be clearly understood that there is no “cure” for FM. It has also been widely reported in many studies that the BEST management approach for FM is through a TEAM of healthcare providers. This team is frequently made up of primary care doctors, doctors of chiropractic, massage therapists, mental / behavioral specialists, physical therapists, and perhaps others (acupuncturist, nutritionist, stress management specialists, and more).

The “general” treatment approach is typically done with medications, cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT), gentle exercise, and manual therapies. Additionally, patients are encouraged to participate in the healing process via self-management strategies that focus on reducing stress and fatigue, optimizing diet, and developing a consistent sleep habit.

Think of the role of the chiropractor as a strong member of the team. A doctor of chiropractic can offer many of the known methods of managing FM described above, as their training includes diet and nutrition, stress management, exercise training, and ability to provide “whole person care.” Treatments delivered in the chiropractic setting like spinal manipulation, mobilization, and massage offer GREAT relief to FM patients! Again, coordinating care between various providers is the best approach, but you need someone willing and able to do that. A doctor of chiropractic is a great choice!

It is very difficult to manage FM on your own. Let a doctor of chiropractic tailor a treatment plan that is appealing to you and your specific interests. Managing FM is definitely NOT a “…one size fits all” approach like an inhaler is for asthma. Each individual’s situation is too highly unique!

How can I make my WRD less severe?

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Whiplash is really a slang term for the rapid back and forth whipping of the head on the neck, usually associated with motor vehicle accidents. The title “Whiplash Associated Disorders”, or WAD, describes it best because it includes ALL of the MANY signs and symptoms of the disorder.

WAD basically comes in three sizes based on the degree of injury. A WAD I is present when there is pain but no physical examination findings; WAD II occurs when there are exam findings but no neurological loss (numbness or weakness); and WAD III includes loss of neurological function.  There is also a separate WAD level that includes fractures and dislocations (WAD IV).

There are many things that can be done by the patient to assist in the healing process for WAD. The first well-studied recommendation is to “continue with your usual activities.” Try to keep active and not change your routine. The good news is that WAD (especially types I and II) usually resolves without complication, and recovery is even more likely to occur if you don’t deviate much from your routine.

For those whose symptoms are more severe and/or not resolving, mobilization and manipulation of the neck and back are very effective treatment options. In addition to treatments you’d receive in a chiropractic office, there are MANY things you can do at home as “self-help strategies.” Some of these include (“PRICE”):

1)  PROTECT: Though it’s important to continue with your usual daily activities, this is dependent on both the degree of tissue injury and your pain tolerance. So do as many of your usual daily activities as possible, but AVOID those that result in a sharp, lancinating type of pain or those where recovery from the pain is delayed.  Therefore, this category may require modifying your ADLs (activities of daily living). A cervical collar (hard or

soft) should NOT to be used UNLESS you have an unstable injury (fracture or a grade III sprain).

2)  REST: Doing too much is like picking at a cut (which can delay healing) and doing too little can lead to a delayed healing response as well. Staying within reasonable pain boundaries is a good guide.

3) ICE > HEAT: Ice reduces swelling, and your doctor will typically recommend it over applying heat, especially on a recent injury. Heat draws fluids in, and while it may feel good, it can make your symptoms worse.

4)  COMPRESS: We can basically ignore this when referencing neck pain. This pertains better to wrapping an ankle, knee, wrist, or elbow with an elastic compression orthotic or brace.

5)  ELEVATE: This too is meant for the acute stages of an extremity injury like a foot or ankle.

Exercises unique for neck pain in the acute, subacute, and chronic stages of healing are perhaps the most important of the self-help approaches. In the ACUTE phase, try these…

1)  Range of Motion: Once again, stay within “reasonable pain boundaries” as you move your head forwards, backwards, side to side, and rotate left and right. These can be done either with or without LIGHT resistance applied using one or two fingers placed against your head. Limit the repetitions to three slow reps in each direction and emphasize the release of the movement.

2)  Chin/head Glides: Tuck in the chin (think of creating a double or triple chin) followed by poking the chin/head out.

In the SUBACUTE and CHRONIC phases of healing, the importance of strengthening the deep neck flexors cannot be over emphasized. Please refer to last month’s article for a description of this (see #3 of the 6 recommendations listed).

MRI Truths & Myths

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Low back pain is a very common complaint. In fact, it’s the #1 reason for doctor visits in the United States! The economic burden of LBP on the working class is astronomical. Most people can’t afford to be off work for one day, much less a week, month, or more! Because of the popularity of hospital-based TV dramas over the past two decades, many people think getting an MRI of their back can help their doctor fix their lower back problem. Is this a good idea? Let’s take a look!

Patients will often bring in a CD that has an MRI of their lower back to a doctor of chiropractic and ask the ultimate question, “….can you fix me?” Or, worse, “…I think I need surgery.” Sure, it’s quite amazing how an MRI can “slice” through the spine and show bone, soft tissues, disks, muscles, nerves, the spinal cord, and more! Since the low back bears approximately 2/3 of our body’s weight, you can frequently find MANY ABNORMALITIES in a person over 40-50 years old. In fact, it would be quite odd NOT to see things like disk degeneration, disk bulges, joint arthritis, spur formation, etc.!

Hence, the “downside” of having ALL this information is the struggle to determine which finding on the MRI has clinical significance. In other words, where is the LBP coming from? Is it that degenerative disk, bulged disk, herniated disk, or the narrowed canal where the nerve travels? Interestingly, in a recent review of more than 3,200 cases of acute low back pain, those who had an MRI scan performed earlier in their care had a WORSE outcome, more surgery, and higher costs compared with those who didn’t succumb to the temptation of requesting an MRI!

This is not to say MRI, CT scans, and x-rays are not important, as they effectively show conditions like subtle fractures and dangerous conditions like cancer. But for LBP, MRI is often misleading. This is because the primary cause of LBP is “functional” NOT “structural,” so it’s EASY to get railroaded into thinking whatever shows up on that MRI has to be the problem.

Here is how we know this, when we take 1,000 people WITHOUT low back pain between ages 30 and 60 (male or female) and perform an MRI on their lower back, we will find up to 53% will have PAINLESS disk bulges in one or more lumbar disks. Moreover, we will find up to 30% will have partial disk herniations, and up to 18% will have an extruded disk (one that has herniated ALL the way out). Yet, these people are PAIN FREE and never knew they had disk “derangement” (since they have no LBP). When combining all of these possible disk problems together, several studies report that between 57% and 64% of the general population has some type of disk problem without ANY BACK PAIN!

Hence, when a patient with a simple sprain/strain and localized LBP presents with an MRI showing a disk problem, it usually ONLY CONFUSES the patient (and frequently the doctor), as that disk problem is usually not the problem causing the pain!  So DON’T have an MRI UNLESS a surgical treatment decision depends on its findings. That is weakness, numbness, and non-resolving LBP in spite of 4-6 weeks of non-surgical care or unless there is weakness in bowel or bladder control. Remember, the majority of back pain sufferers DO NOT need surgery!

We realize you have a choice in whom you consider for your health care provision and we sincerely appreciate your trust in choosing our service for those needs.  If you, a friend, or family member requires care for back pain, we would be honored to render our services.

What are some good exercises for Fibro?

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Fibromyalgia (FM) is a very common, chronic condition where the patient describes “widespread pain” not limited to one area of the body. Hence, when addressing exercises for FM, one must consider the whole body. Perhaps one of the most important to consider is the squat.

If you think about it, we must squat every time we sit down, stand up, get in/out of our car, and in/out of bed. Even climbing and descending steps results in a squat-lunge type of movement.

The problem with squatting is that we frequently lose (or misuse) the proper way to do this when we’re in pain as the pain forces us to compensate, which can cause us to develop faulty movement patterns that can irritate our ankles, knees, hips, and spine (particularly the low back). In fact, performing a squatting exercise properly will strengthen the hips, which will help protect the spine, and also strengthens the glutel muscles, which can help you perform all the daily activities mentioned above.

The “BEST” type of squat is the free-standing squat. This is done by bending the ankles, knees, and hips while keeping a curve in the low back. The latter is accomplished by “…sticking the butt out” during the squat.

Do NOT allow the knees to drift beyond your toes! If you notice sounds coming from your knees they can be ignored IF they are not accompanied by pain. If you do have pain, try moving the foot of the painful knee about six inches (~15 cm) ahead of the other and don’t squat as far down. Move within “reasonable boundaries of pain” by staying away from positions that reproduce sharp, lancinating pain that lingers upon completion.

There are MANY exercises that help FM, but this one is particularly important!

Can WRD cause my dizziness?

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Whiplash, or better termed “Whiplash Associated Disorders” (WAD), is a condition that carries multiple signs and symptoms ranging from neck pain and stiffness to headache, confusion, ringing in the ears, and more. But can WAD cause dizziness? Let’s take a look!

Dizziness is a general term that is used rather loosely by the general population. We’ve all experienced dizziness from time-to-time that is considered “normal,” such as standing up too quickly or while experiencing a rough flight.

Often, dizziness and problems with balance go hand in hand. There are three main organs that control our balance: 1) the vestibular system (the inner ear); 2) the cerebellum (lies in the back of the head); and, 3) the dorsal columns (located in the back part of the spinal cord). In this article, we will primarily focus on the inner ear because, of the three, it’s unique for causing dizziness. Our vision also plays an important role in maintaining balance, as we tend to lose our balance much faster when we close our eyes.

It’s appropriate to first discuss the transient, usually short episode of “normal” lightheadedness associated with rising quickly. This is typically caused by a momentary drop in blood pressure, and hence, oxygen simply doesn’t reach the brain quick enough when moving from sitting to standing. Again, this is normal and termed “orthostatic hypotension” (OH).

However, OH can be exaggerated by colds, the flu, allergy flair-ups, when hyperventilating, or at times of increased stress or anxiety. OH is also associated with the use of tobacco, alcohol, and/or some medications. Bleeding can represent a more serious cause of OH such as with bleeding ulcers or some types of colitis, and less seriously, with menstruation.

The term BPPV or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, has to do with the inner ear where our semicircular canals are located. The canals lie in three planes and give us a 3D, 360º perspective about where we are in space. The fluid flowing through these canals bends little hair-like projections, which are connected to sensory nerves that tell the brain about our spatial position. If the function of these canals is disturbed, it can mix-up the messages the brain receives, thus resulting in dizziness. Exercises are available on the Internet that can help with BPPV (look for Epley’s and Brandt-Daroff exercises).

DANGEROUS causes of dizziness include: HEART – fainting (passing out) accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, pain or pressure in the back, neck, jaw, upper belly, or in one or both arms, sudden weakness, and/or a fast or irregular heartbeat.  STROKE – sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially if only on one side of the body; drooling, slurred speech, short “black outs,” sudden visual changes, confusion/difficulty speaking, and/or a sudden and severe, “out of the ordinary” headache. CALL 911 (or the number for emergency services if you’re outside the United States) if you suspect you may be having a heart attack or stroke!

Trigger point massage

Session Description

 

A treatment with Bryan is very user friendly. And, no, you don’t have to remove any clothing. However, bringing a t-shirt and a pair of shorts or sweats is recommended.

 

The first time you come for a treatment you will be asked to fill out a Client History form. Bryan will go over the information you provide, asking for more detail and discussing the type of pain you are having and its location.

 

The treatment itself involves locating the Trigger Points in the muscle or soft tissue and applying a deep focused pressure to the Point. This will reproduce the pain and the referral pattern that is characteristic of that pain.

 

The treatment will be uncomfortable at first, but as the Trigger Points release, the pain will decrease. The pressure will always be adjusted to your tolerance level. If, at any time, you feel too uncomfortable you can ask Bryan to ease off a bit.

 

Depending on your specific problem, Bryan may also use some stretching and / or range-of-motion techniques, as needed.

 

After treatment, it is usually recommended that the client apply moist heat to the area treated.