Addressing Common Misconceptions About Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is being recognized and diagnosed more frequently, but there are still a number of misconceptions about this invisible illness that causes widespread pain and fatigue. Individuals living with Fibromyalgia may also develop mental health disorders .
A few years ago, people experiencing symptoms of Fibromyalgia received very little medical validation of their condition. Being unable to see tangible evidence of the pain, physicians would often try and convince their patients it was “all in their head.” Others simply prescribed opioids as a band-aid solution, but this often resulted in a host of additional complications.
Recent research and grassroots lobbying have helped legitimize the condition within the medical community. Nevertheless, there are still physicians who may be quick to dismiss a patient’s symptoms. Fortunately, state-of-the-art diagnostic tools can now help physicians to further assess a patient’s claims. Once someone has been diagnosed, they can receive appropriate referrals to help manage their pain and suffering.
We are happy to see that Fibromyalgia is receiving the recognition it deserves, and hope that additional research leads to a cure. In the meantime, we would like to help clear the air on some common misconceptions.
It’s All In Your Head
From blogs to social media posts, this is one of the most frequently reported misconceptions related to Fibromyalgia. First, let’s try to understand why it is the most frequently assumed misconception. When physicians say this to patients, are they trying to dismiss them, or is there an element of truth to it? Lets dive in and investigate.
Who is saying this?
Those who tell patients “it’s all in your head” are most likely the ones who have repeatedly tried and failed to find effective solutions. Typically, this includes the medical team managing a patient’s diagnosis, as well as friends and family who serve as support.
Physicians and specialists alike will use every tool available to appropriately diagnose and treat a condition. Typically, this is a black and white process. “Are you experiencing symptoms of A, B, or E? Take this medication and contact me in two weeks if it doesn’t get better – or it gets worse.” How many times have you heard this from your primary care physician?
When the prescribed treatment method is ineffective, a few things will happen. Physicians will continue to try different treatment approaches or refer out to a specialist. When they are unable to find tangible evidence or the “generator” of an individual’s pain, they often assume the pain is somatic .
Family and friends experience a similar set of circumstances. They serve as the initial support system, standing by their loved one’s side willing do everything in their power to help find answers. They want to help their loved one and find the answers they need, but this is an unrealistic standard to set. This often results in burnout, exhaustion, and eventually resentment. Once a friend or family member hits exhaustion and resentment, an “it’s all in your head” assumption gets projected.
Related article: Maintaining Healthy Relationships in Chronic Pain Management
Fibromyalgia is Untreatable
It’s true that at this time there is no cure for Fibromyalgia. However, there are several ways people can reduce the severity of their pain and suffering. There are very few biomedical interventions to manage pain other than over-the-counter pain medications and opioid prescriptions. However, opioid medications bring with them a host of additional problematic side effects that further complicate patient’s pain management plan, let alone the coexisting conditions related to living with Fibromyalgia. Learn more about the risks associated with long term opioid use here. There are a wide variety of ways to manage the coexisting physical and emotional suffering related to Fibromyalgia.
Exercise and Muscle Strengthening
Although sometimes it seems impossible, physical exercise is one of the best ways to keep Fibromyalgia pain in check! Why is exercise important? Light to moderate exercise increases strength, flexibility, and enhances energy. Increased cardiovascular activity helps pump oxygen rich blood throughout your body. This helps the body naturally eliminate toxins while promoting muscle and joint restoration.
Exercise also helps address the psychological and emotional symptoms of pain. Physical exertion increases levels of serotonin, our body’s natural “feel good” chemical. This helps regulate feelings of anxiety and depression that often accommodate Fibromyalgia. It is also important to note that regular exercise will help individuals with sleep issues.
At A Healing Place – The Estates our patients are exposed to low impact exercises such as yoga, aquatherapy, and walking. Speak with your physician or specialist about what exercises would be best, and remember not to overdo it!
Stress Management Techniques
As mentioned above, exercise is one of the greatest natural ways we can alleviate our stress. However, it isn’t the only tool we use to help our patients regulate their stress!
Mindfulness techniques such as CBT help restructure the way we think and perceive our experiences. People living with chronic pain often experience anxiety just thinking about what kind of pain the next day will bring them. CBT and other mindful practices help to rewire thought processes and avoid catastrophizing experiences.
Improved Sleep Hygiene
Good sleep is the foundation to a good day. Unfortunately, sleep disorders one of the most common co-occurring disorders associated with chronic pain . Here are a few self-directed ways in which you can promote healthy sleep hygiene.
- Maintain a sleep schedule.
- Monitor how food and beverages impact your ability to rest.
- Put electronics away 30 minutes to an hour before bed.
- Create a bedtime ritual.
- Limit daytime napping.
- Exercise regularly.
If you have already integrated these techniques into your daily routine and still are not seeing results, you may want to evaluate your sleeping environment. If you are uncomfortable, consider finding a mattress or pillow that offers appropriate support. Additionally, white noise machines wash out noises that may be disturbing your sleep at night.
One of the first things we do with our patients entering our treatment facility is a nutritional assessment. We want to learn more about what they eat and how it is prepared. We have found that many of our patients rely on quick and easy meals because the process of cooking for themselves can be exhausting. Fast food and boxed meals (like hamburger helper) are always a common denominator. We support a gluten-free, anti-inflammatory diet that many of our patients founds extremely helpful during their stay with us.
- Refine starches
- Sugary foods and beverages
- Processed meat
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Fried foods
- Trans fats
- Leafy greens and other vegetables
- Whole grains
- Beans and nuts
- Fatty fish
See related article: 10 Holistic Non-Pharmacological Ways to Alleviate Chronic Pain
 “Lipowski’s often cited summary, defined somatization as “… a tendency to experience and communicate somatic distress and symptoms unaccounted for by pathological findings, to attribute them to physical illness, and to seek medical help for them,” adding that “it is usually assumed that this tendency becomes manifest in response to psychosocial stress brought about by life events and situations that are personally stressful to the individual””
 “Chronic pain is associated with symptoms that may impair a patient’s quality of life, including emotional distress, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. There is a high prevalence of concomitant pain and sleep disturbance.”