Chiropractic for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a mysterious and complex disorder for which there is no cure. Chiropractic treatment has helped many people by reducing fibromyalgia symptoms and improving quality of life.
Fibromyalgia was not recognized by the American Medical Association as a diagnosis until 1987, even though healers have been treating its symptoms since at least the 1600s. Today, because there is no specific test to determine if a person has fibromyalgia, some conventional physicians still deny that the disorder exists. Instead, they attribute symptoms to emotional or psychological causes.
Current research suggests that fibromyalgia is a disorder of the central nervous system. People with fibromyalgia appear to have abnormalities in the chemical compounds (neurotransmitters) that transmit nerve impulses. They also have, on average, four times as much nerve growth factor as people without the disorder. This suggests that fibromyalgia is a problem of central nervous system hypersensitivity. Because chiropractic medicine is based on the theory that an individual's health is controlled by the state of his or her central nervous system, chiropractors, who are experts in this area, are especially well suited to help patients reduce their fibromyalgia symptoms.
How Do Chiropractors Diagnose Fibromyalgia?
The average person with fibromyalgia does not get a correct diagnosis for more than five years after seeking conventional medical treatment, and more than half of all people with the disorder seeing a conventional physician receive a misdiagnosis that may lead to unnecessary and invasive treatment, including unneeded surgeries. Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia affect the entire body in a variety of individual ways, many people find relief through a holistic approach, such as provided by a chiropractor.
Because fibromyalgia produces different symptoms in different individuals, the chiropractor needs to be a good and discerning listener. It is important that patients choose a chiropractor with whom they feel comfortable and have good communication with.
At the initial session, the chiropractor will take a complete health history and perform a physical assessment. The chiropractor will evaluate the patient's spine alignment, palpate muscles, and use the thumb to put pressure on 18 predetermined tender points. In healthy people, the tender points only hurt when enough pressure is put on them to make the base of the thumbnail turn white. In people with fibromyalgia, the tender points will hurt when much less pressure is applied. The chiropractor may also press certain control sites, such as the forehead, where no pain should be felt.
How Do Chiropractors Treat Fibromyalgia?
Based on the general and tender point evaluation, the chiropractor will make adjustments to the neck and spine. Manipulations are done using the hands and consist of a short, sharp thrust that may cause a popping sound (thus the common saying that a chiropractor "cracks" the back). The goal of these adjustments is to correct misalignment of the spine. Once the spine is correctly aligned, pain symptoms in any parts of the body, not just the spine and neck, should be reduced or disappear. When pain is reduced, other problems, such as disrupted sleep, fatigue, and depression, tend to disappear. The chiropractor may also suggest herbal or homeopathic treatments, or changes in diet, lifestyle, and sleep hygiene to improve your health.
Many health insurance policies cover some or all of the costs of chiropractic visits. Patients should check with their insurer before beginning treatment. Patients usually see their chiropractor more frequently at the beginning of the treatment period in order to relieve pain. This is followed by regular but less frequent appointments to maintain gains made in healing. In chronic disorders such as fibromyalgia, treatment may be long term. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but chiropractic treatment has helped many people by reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome, and not a specific disease. This means that people who have fibromyalgia exhibit a specific constellation of symptoms. The disorder is diagnosed by elimination when no other explanation can account for the symptoms. To have fibromyalgia, the individual must have widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body that lasts more or less continuously, for at least three months. The patient must also have pain in at least 11 of 18 tender points. A tender point is a pre-designated spot that is painful when 4 kg of pressure (about 9 lb, or enough to make the nail bed of the finger whiten) is applied.
Individuals with fibromyalgia may also experience other symptoms including:
- Morning stiffness
- Poor sleep or sleep disorders
- Chronic headaches
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Restless leg syndrome
- Menstrual irregularities
- Muscle twitches and/or muscle weakness
There are two types of chiropractors in the United States today. Straight chiropractors treat patients using only spinal manipulations, and they do not use or advocate any other therapies. Mixed chiropractors use spinal manipulations, but also integrate into their practice other alternatives therapies such as massage, nutritional counseling, homeopathic medicine, and herbal remedies. Some mixed chiropractors also work with conventional medical doctors to integrate conventional and alternative therapies. About 85 percent of chiropractors are mixed practitioners. Most chiropractors who treat fibromyalgia are of the mixed type and take a holistic approach to their patient's care.
In the United States, there are 18 chiropractic programs accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education. This body was established in 1974 to standardize educational training for chiropractors and oversee the accreditation process. Admission to an accredited chiropractic program requires a minimum of two years of undergraduate college work with emphasis on the natural sciences. The chiropractic program is four years in length and consists of about 5,000 hours of instruction, of which about 70 percent is hands-on clinical work. Each state has a board that establishes licensing requirements for practicing chiropractors.
American Chiropractic Association is the major professional association for American Chiropractors and provides current information on chiropractic topics and research, status of insurance coverage, and guidelines on selecting a licensed chiropractic doctor.
Fibromyalgia-Symptoms.org has information on the latest research on fibromyalgia as well as tips for patients on managing fibromyalgia symptoms.