The word fibromyalgia comes from three Latin words, fibro ("fibrous tissue"), my ("muscle tissue"), and algia ("pain"). It is a chronic condition characterized by musculoskeletal pain and many tender points, particularly in the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. It is called a syndrome rather than a disease, because not everyone's symptoms are the same.

Fibromyalgia afflicts between three and six million Americans, women more often than men. It often occurs in more than one member of a family, which suggests it may be an inherited disorder. Other possible causes include a virus or an injury that affects the central nervous system. Symptoms may be triggered or exacerbated by stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep habits, or a change in the weather. For many years, fibromyalgia was thought to be a psychosomatic disorder because no one could find a definitive cause of the pain.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Chronic, widespread pain that lasts three months or more, with no clear cause, combined with tenderness in at least 11 of 18 well-defined tender point sites on the body
  • Pains, aches, and stiffness in several muscle groups, joints, and in all four quadrants of the body
  • Pain that moves from one part of the body to another, most commonly felt in the neck, chest, arms, legs, hips, and back
  • Pain that may be variously characterized as deep aching, radiating, gnawing, shooting, or burning
  • Body aches and stiffness upon awakening
  • Headaches and jaw pain
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive system difficulties, as in swallowing, alternating diarrhea and constipation, or recurring abdominal pain
  • Numbness or tingling in parts of the body
  • Increased sensitivity to bright lights, noise, odors, and various foods
  • Alternating feelings of hot and cold

Conventional Medical Treatment

Diagnosis is frustrating, because fibromyalgia mimics the symptoms of other diseases, such as Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, or low-back degenerative disease. Diagnosis usually comes after these and other conditions have been investigated and dismissed. There is no known way to prevent fibromyalgia, and the symptoms can come and go, often lasting for months or years. However, the disorder leaves no permanent damage, and in most cases it eventually does subside.

A doctor may prescribe a combination of muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant drugs. The antidepressants amitriptyline (Elavil) or cyclbenzaprine hydrochloride (Flexeril) are beneficial in relieving some symptoms, but can have side effects, including weight gain, urinary retention, and morning grogginess. Other muscle relaxers and antidepressants are occasionally prescribed.

The treatment for fibromyalgia also includes a combination of healthy diet, exercise, and rest. Stationary biking, low-impact aerobics, swimming, and walking may help alleviate symptoms; slowly work up to 60 minutes of exercise 3 or 4 times per week. Warm up and cool down the muscles gradually before and after exercise, and avoid exercises that can cause joint pain. Proper sleep is also important. Experts recommend eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables because these foods provide trace elements and minerals that help muscles. High-fiber foods help the digestive system perform its functions. Massage and physical therapy (with heat) may bring some short-term relief.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Nutrition and Supplementation

When it comes to fibromyalgia, it seems more important to avoid certain food than to include particular foods in your diet. Eliminate meat, dairy products, and all other foods high in saturated fats; these fats interfere with circulation and increase pain. Likewisee avoid fried and processed foods, shellfish, whith bread, and pasta. Eliminate sugar products from your diet, as sugar in any form disturbs sleep and promotes fatigue. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as well. If you have been consuming these foods on a regular basis, you will go through a short with-drawal period where your symptoms may worsen once you eliminate them from your menu. Before long, however, you will notice improvement.

Center your diet around raw foods and fresh juices. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, skinless turkey or chicken, and deep-water fish. These foods provide nutrients that help energize and build immunity. It is important to flush out toxins, so drink steam distilled water and herbal teas. Eat four or five small meals daily so your body is supplied with a steady intake of proteins and carbohydrates necessary for muscle function.

Malabsorption problems are common in fibromyalgia, so all nutrients are needed in amounts greater than normal. A daily plan would include:

Most Important

  • coenzyme (75 mg)-improves oxygenation of tissues
  • lecithin (as directed on label)-energizes and improves circulation
  • malic acid and magnesium (as directed on label)-assist in energy production in many cells
  • proteolytic enzymes (as directed on label, 6 times daily)-improves the absorption of foods, especially protein
  • vitamin A (25,000 IU for 1 month, reduce to 10,000 IU; not to exceed 8000 IU if you are pregnant)-protects the body's cells; use the emulsion form
  • vitamin E (800 IU for 1 month, then reduce to 400 IU)-enhances immune function; use the emulsion form
  • vitamin C with bioflavonoids (5000 to 10,000 mg)-energizes; use buffered form
  • a prodophilus formula (as directed on label)-supports intestinal function

Also Recommended

  • vitamin B complex (as prescribed by a doctor)-energizes and increases normal brain function; injections are best
  • free-form amino acid complex (as directed on label)-supplies protein necessary for repair and building of muscle tissue
  • magnesium glycinate (1000 mg)-a deficiency is common in people with fibromyalgia
  • calcium citrate or calcium lactate (2000 mg)-balances with magnesium
  • potassium (99 mg)-aids in muscle function
  • selenium (200 mcg) -an antioxidant
  • zinc (50 mg, not to exceed 100 mg total from all supplements)-helps the immune system function properly
  • melatonin (as directed on label, 2 hours or less before bedtime)-promotes sleep
  • vanadyl sulfate (as directed on label)-protects muscles and reduces fatigue
  • L-glutamine (2 g)-supports immune system functioning
  • live cell therapy supplement (as directed on label) (thymus, adrenal, liver, and pancreas)-Supports glandular functions Consult your healthcare provider regarding the duration of treatment.)

Herbal Therapy

  • Since fibromyalgia presents a variety of stressing, even incapacitating, symptoms and discomforts, more than one herb is necessary for relief. try a combination of the following herbal remedies:
  • To boost blood circulation, alertness, and the immune system, use astragalus, echinacea, and ginkgo. You might also try these teas: burdock root, dandelion, and red clover. To make the teas, steep 1 to 3 teaspoons dried herb or root in 1 cup boiling water for 5 to 15 minutes; strain. Drink several cups daily. You also can brew a blend of the herbs.
  • For relief from muscular pain, use a topical application of 1 part cayenne powder and 3 parts wintergreen oil. You also can try cayenne (in capsule form) and flaxseed oil (as directed on the label, three times daily).
  • Sip skullcap or valerian root tea to improve sleep. To make the skullcap tea, steep 2 teaspoons dried leaves in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes; strain. To prepare the valerian tea, steep 2 teaspoons dried, chopped root in 1 cup boiling water for 8 to 12 hours; strain. Both skullcap and valerian are available in tincture form. Be aware that these herbs can cause drowsiness and should not be used to excess.
  • Grape seed extract helps to protect muscles from free radical damage. Use as directed on the product label.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture Most of the symptoms and side effects associated with fibromyalgia can be treated with acupuncture. The acupoints to be manipulated will, of course, depend entirely on the symptoms presented by the individual.

Chinese Herbal Therapy There are numerous Chinese herbs that can be used to treat fibromyalgia-related symptoms. Consult the entry for each specific ailment ("Headache," "PMS," etc.) for detailed information or recommended herbs.

Formulas often used for fibromyalgia muscle pain are Corydalis Formula, Ginseng and Tang Gui Ten, Ginseng and Atractylodes, Peony and Licorice, and Tian Qi and Eucommia.

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