Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body.
Scientists estimate that around 5 million adults in the United States are affected by fibromyalgia. Although men and children can have the disorder, it is more often seen in women. Most people with the condition are diagnosed during middle age.
When fibromyalgia pains flare up, every activity can seem more difficult. All people experience flares differently, and there can be different triggers depending on the person.
Flare-ups can happen without warning and are mostly likely to occur if a person with fibromyalgia is stressed or under a lot of pressure.
A flare-up can last anywhere from a few days to weeks at a time.
Potential flare-up triggers
Certain factors may trigger a fibromyalgia flare-up, such as changes in: diet, hormones, physical or psychological stress, schedule, sleep, temperature or weather.
Stressful events, surgery, or accidents can make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Flare-ups can also be caused by a lack of sleep or doing too much or too little exercise.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain. The condition causes pain, stiffness, and tenderness of the muscles, tendons, and joints. The individual symptoms differ from one person to another. Symptoms can vary in intensity and come and go.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:
Someone with fibromyalgia may sometimes experience clumsiness, dizzy spells, feeling too hot or cold, painful periods, restless legs syndrome, and numbness or tingling in hands and feet.
Doctors used to refer to tender or trigger points that cause flare-ups, but these are no longer widely used. The American College of Rheumatology has newer criteria to diagnose fibromyalgia.
Although some triggers for fibromyalgia are beyond a person’s control, others can be managed and flare-ups prevented. It is often easier to prevent a flare than treat one.
Below are several lifestyle changes and tips that may help relieve symptoms and make fibromyalgia easier to live with day to day.
Keeping a log of triggers
Triggers for fibromyalgia vary from person to person. Maintaining a log of activities, meals, sleep times and duration, and symptoms of fibromyalgia may help to identify particular triggers.
Recording these activities might highlight patterns of what triggers a flare. This might help a person with fibromyalgia find out how to better manage or avoid those triggers.
Reducing stress and relaxing
Stress makes symptoms of fibromyalgia worse. Many people with fibromyalgia experience stress and feelings of depression, anxiety, and frustration. People may benefit from trying to avoid or limit exposure to stressful situations and making time to relax.
While techniques such as meditation or deep breathing may help manage stress, it is important that people with fibromyalgia do not avoid physical activity altogether. People with fibromyalgia who quit work or stop exercising do not do as well as those that stay active.
Options to assist with stress management are available and include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and feedback from qualified health professionals.
Getting enough sleep
Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia. It is essential that a person with fibromyalgia get enough sleep.
Sleep hygiene practices that may help include going to bed and getting up at the same time every day and limiting napping during the day.
Sometimes, people with fibromyalgia experience restless legs syndrome and pain that can interfere with sleep. A doctor can recommend treatments for these problems, which may aid restful sleep.
Regular physical activity can often decrease or improve symptoms of fibromyalgia. Although exercise may increase symptoms of pain at first, it may help prevent pain over time.
Activities that are recommended for people with fibromyalgia include walking, biking, swimming, and water aerobics. Maintaining good posture habits, stretching, and relaxation exercises may also help.
For maximum effect, it is recommended that people with fibromyalgia begin with gentle exercise, such as walking, and build up endurance and intensity slowly.
Resistance and strengthening exercises may improve muscle strength, physical disability, depression, and quality of life. They can also improve tiredness, function, and boost mood in people with fibromyalgia.
Not doing too much
While regular physical activity is recommended to help manage fibromyalgia symptoms, it is crucial to limit overexertion not to do too much.
Moderation is the key. If a person with fibromyalgia does too much on days where their symptoms are good, they may end up having more bad days. However, on bad days, individuals should still try to be as active as they can. Keeping activity levels as even as possible provides the best outcome.
Although there is no specific diet recommended for people with fibromyalgia, there are certain foods that appear to make fibromyalgia symptoms worse.
Try an elimination diet, in which you exclude certain food groups each week to see if symptoms improve. If symptoms get better after ruling out a certain type of food, they may well be connected to fibromyalgia symptoms.
Maintaining proper nutrition will help boost energy levels and help avoid other health problems.
Fibromyalgia and Social Security
Many people with fibromyalgia find themselves unable to work or resume a normal standard of living.
For such people, Social Security rulings in the United States dictate that so long as a medical or osteopathic doctor can determine that the disease causes medically determinable impairment (MDI), the condition will qualify as a disability for Social Security payments.
This means that a doctor should be able to confirm:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires medical documentation dating back 12 months related to the disease, and may conducts interviews with relatives, friends, neighbors, and past employers to confirm the diagnosis.
In some cases, the SSA may fund a consultation to confirm the debilitating nature of the disease.
Many with fibromyalgia are now turning to cannabis in search of relief
While doctors and scientists try to decipher what is at the root of fibromyalgia and its symptoms, this painful disorder causes suffering and discomfort in the lives of 5 million Americans annually. According to the Mayo Clinic, leading researchers believe that fibromyalgia “amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.” While we may not be sure exactly what is occurring in the body to cause this, one thing that does seem consistent is that cannabis has provided a sense of relief for many people who are living with the ailment.
Symptoms related to fibromyalgia:
Why Cannabis for Fibromyalgia?
Doctor Ethan Russo has laid much of the groundwork for what we are able to do at The Novel Tree Medical. His research on cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors has led to his assertion that fibromyalgia is actually a deficiency of the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system is the system responsible for regulating all other systems throughout the body. His theory is that if our body can’t produce enough endogenous cannabinoids (internally-produced) to properly deal with pain and fatigue, we can supplement with phytocannabinoids (plant-produced) to supplement our system. This is where cannabis enters the picture.
“Medicine continues to struggle in its approaches to numerous common subjective pain syndromes that lack objective signs and remain treatment resistant. Foremost among these are migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome, disorders that may overlap in their affected populations and whose sufferers have all endured the stigma of a psychosomatic label, as well as the failure of endless pharmacotherapeutic interventions with substandard benefit.”- Dr. Ethan Russo
While anecdotal, the feedback we’ve received from many guests over the years with fibromyalgia leads us to the conclusion that cannabis can help aid relief from the associated symptoms, and corroborates Dr. Russo’s findings. Among the people we’ve given medical cannabis consultations to, most have found that products containing high levels of CBD and low levels of THC are the most effective for providing relief.