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FIBROMYALGIA AND THE TENDER POINTS

Posted Apr 03 2010 12:00am
Apr
03

          If you have ever known anyone that has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it is no joke!  Contrary to what some believe, fibromyalgia is NOT psychological burn out or depression, it is NOT laziness, whining or malingering.  It IS the result of widespread dysfunction in the body and the brain that is hard to understand, difficult to diagnose and treat, and so far, impossible to cure.  In a nutshell, fibromyalgia is widespread pain in the muscles and soft tissues above and below the waist and on both sides of the body.  It is actually a syndrome – a set of symptoms that happen together but do not have a known cause.  In this syndrome, the nervous system (nerves, spinal cord, and brain) is not able to control what it feels, so ordinary feelings from your muscles, joints and soft tissues are experienced as pain.  People with fibromyalgia feel pain and/or tenderness even when there is no injury or inflammation.  A lot of illnesses involve one part of the body, or one system.  Fibromyalgia, however, involves the entire body and throws all kinds of things out of whack.  As bizarre and confusing as the varied symptoms may be, they’re tied to very real physical causes. 

          Experts have theories about what may cause fibromyalgia, but there is not enough evidence to support any single cause.  It has been recognized as a medical disorder only since the 1980s.  Certain factors may increase your risk of developing fibromyalgia.  Being female greatly increases your chance of developing this syndrome.  It is possible that having a rheumatic disorder (such as rheumatoid arthritis), an infectious disease (such as Lyme disease or mononucleosis), a psychiatric condition (such as major depression) or a traumatic event (such as a car accident) may increase your chance of developing fibromyalgia.  There is some evidence that having a family history of fibromyalgia may increase your risk.  Many people connect the beginning of their fibromyalgia symptoms to a certain event.  These events can include an illness such as the flu, an injury or surgery or emotional trauma and stress.  An event of this type combined with other factors, such as increased sensitivity to pain and an ongoing sleep disturbance, may lead to fibromyalgia syndrome in some people.

          Doctors can find out if you have fibromyalgia based on two things.  One is widespread pain, which means the pain is on both sides of your body above and below the waist.  The other is tenderness in at least 11 of 18 points when they are pressed.  These 18 sites used for diagnosis are referred to as “tender points”.  They cluster around the neck, shoulder, chest, hip, knee and elbow regions.  Specifically, these areas are demonstrated by the image displayed in this article.  According to the American College of Rheumatology criteria, these hot spots, or tender points, are highly sensitive to pressure in comparison to people without fibromyalgia that are much less tender to pressure applied to the same areas.  In more in-depth studies, over 75 other tender points have been found to exist, but are not used for diagnostic purposes. 

          Besides pain mentioned in the above areas, other symptoms of fibromyalgia include sleep problems and tiredness.  Less common symptoms include headaches, morning stiffness, trouble concentrating and irritable bowel syndrome.  As with many conditions that cause chronic pain, it is common for people with fibromyalgia to have anxiety and depression.  These can make you feel worse.  Fibromyalgia is a long-lasting (chronic) condition with no cure.  Symptoms tend to come and go. You may have times when you hurt more, followed by times when symptoms happen less often, hurt less or are absent (remissions).  Some people find that their symptoms are worse in cold and damp weather, during times of stress or when they try to do too much.  While the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia fluctuate from person to person, there is one common symptom that all agree on – they ache all over.  The pain can feel like a deep bone ache, pins and needles, or a stabbing or burning pain.  Muscles may feel like they have been pulled or overworked.  There are times this pain is mild, others when it is so severe that it becomes unbearable.

          For the estimated 10 million Americans living with fibromyalgia, there is nothing “simple” about it.  The daily battle with widespread pain, fatigue, and mental fog can be debilitating.  One of the best ways to begin managing the daily stress and rigors of living with fibromyalgia is to start simple.  Experts have found that 4 simple yet highly effective daily habits that can help with the disorder include drinking plenty of water, avoiding toxic foods and beverages (coffee, soda, alcohol, white sugar, salt, artificial sweeteners, processed food, junk or fast food), moving your body and avoiding self-imposed guilt.  If you have trouble sleeping, change your routine. Counseling can help you cope with long-term (chronic) pain.  If your symptoms are troublesome, your doctor can prescribe medicines that help you feel better.  Symptoms of depression, such as a loss of interest in things you usually enjoy or changes in eating and sleeping habits, can often be successfully treated if you tell your doctor about them.  Some people with fibromyalgia also find complementary therapies helpful.  These include acupuncture, massage, behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques.

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