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Fibromyalgia And Your Upper Neck

How can a spinal problem possibly contribute to your fibromyalgia symptoms? As with many disorders, especially pain, the nervous system is involved. The nervous system can get affected thorough structural changes in the spinal column. The classic one is the disk bulge producing a painful sciatic nerve. But, there are also other ways to interfere with the function of nervous system.

When viewing the neck from the side, there should be a forward curve with your head above your shoulders, not in front of them. When forward head carriage is present or when there is a reduction in this forward arch, this may cause additional strain to the upper cervical spine or spinal cord, allowing delicate nerves to be compromised. Chiropractic care should improve your posture if this forward head carriage is present.

The upper neck can also be influenced by malalignment/subluxation of the upper vertebrae, such as the atlas. This small bone supports the weight of the skull and is necessary for the great rotational range of motion of the neck.

During neck trauma, the head and neck can be put through a violent range of motion that causes the soft tissues (muscles and ligaments) to tear. Blows to the head, childhood or sports injuries and even poor sleeping posture, can cause the upper neck vertebrae to displace, injuring the soft tissues of the joint. Swelling and inflammation can also be a source of irritation to the nervous system. Scar tissue can develop after trauma, which may affect the precise movements of the upper neck.

The atlas surrounds the spinal cord and as it displaces, it can also pull or tether the spinal cord through attachments of delicate ligaments (dentate). This could cause irritation to the nervous system.

The disorders of poor posture and displaced vertebrae can be assessed through x-rays. Range of motion tests are necessary to see how your function may be affected. In some patients, fibromyalgia symptoms can improve substantially. However, most people will need a comprehensive approach that also incorporates an exercise program and nutritional or weight loss support. Chiropractic care is a natural alternative for those who wish a drug-free and non- invasive approach. It carries few risks of side effects and is balanced by the potential to help patients who also have spinal disorders contributing to their poor health.

Fibromyalgia – Can Chiropractic Help… Who Says?

Fibromyalgia (FM) is one of the most commonly diagnosed soft tissue conditions in most branches of health care, including chiropractic. A paper was recently published with the primary purpose to review the existing literature / published research to determine what aspects of chiropractic treatment are the most commonly used and, to determine the quality of those treatment approaches. The emphasis of the study was to look at non-drug, conservative forms of therapy, rather than medication based approaches.

Commonly utilized chiropractic treatment options found to be beneficial include massage, muscle strengthening exercises, acupuncture, spinal manipulation, movement/ body awareness, vitamins, herbs, and dietary modification. Cognitive behavioral therapy, not typically a chiropractic specific form of care, was also reported to be of significant benefit, as well as aerobic exercise. This study places chiropractic in a very favorable position in the management of FM.

Chiropractic is unique in that it encompasses many non-drug, non-surgical forms of treatment, making it appealing to many who do not want to risk the chances of drug related side effects and post-surgical complications. Patients with FM require a multi- dimensional treatment approach and a health care provider versed in whole-body, holistic concepts is in the best position to help this population.

Fibromyalgia can be primary where the specific cause is not well understood or secondary to an underlying injury or condition. Sometimes, it is difficult to determine the exact cause as other conditions can be present and/or arise simultaneously with FM making it difficult to differentiate between primary and secondary. When other conditions are present, sometimes attending those specific conditions will improve the status of FM and focus on treatments that address all of the patient’s physical and emotional health issues yields the most patient satisfying results.

Fibromyalgia & Chiropractic Care

Do you wake up feeling tired, washed out, and dragged down? Do you have generalized pain throughout your body that doesn’t seem to respond to anything you’ve tried? Do you wake up multiple times a night and fight getting back to sleep? These are classic symptoms of fibromyalgia (FM). However, when caught early and treated appropriately, FM can resolve or at least be controlled. Chiropractic care and management of FM is very effective and is becoming increasingly popular among FM sufferers. The goal of managing FM is to return you to a productive, enjoyable lifestyle allowing you to function and perform all of your desired activities.

Chiropractic care is the most popular and sought after form of alternative care or complementary medicine as 20% of American men and women utilize chiropractic care at some point in their lives. Of all the health care options, few have been found to be as satisfying to their patients as chiropractic with 80% of those seeking chiropractic treatment reporting significant pain relief, better functioning and an increased sense of wellbeing. Still, many ask questions such as, what is the science behind chiropractic and, what exactly does a chiropractor do?

The original hypothesis or theory of chiropractic that led to its founding in 1895 is that skeletal or bone misalignments cause nerve interference resulting in pain, loss of function, and a host of other symptoms related to the nervous system. The entire body is connected through bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, with their supporting circulatory or blood flow system and nervous system. When the skeletal structure is in good alignment, the body can handle the many stresses and challenges we all face on a daily basis. When there is a breakdown in this system, symptoms manifest and when left untreated, these symptoms can develop into chronic pain, including conditions such as fibromyalgia. Chiropractors focus to reduce pain and the many other symptoms by correcting the imbalances in the skeletal system with the objective of reducing nervous system dysfunction. Many of the techniques utilized in chiropractic care include manipulation of not only the bony structures, but also the muscles, tendons, and ligaments through various forms of manual or hands-on therapy, stretching, posture correction methods, exercise, lifestyle modification recommendations including diet and nutritional management, and activity modifications. Chiropractic care also includes discussions and instructions for modifying methods of performing tasks including bending, lifting, pulling, pushing in both at work and home activities. Work station modifications are also thoroughly investigated, especially when symptoms are consistently worse after the work day.

Patients with fibromyalgia classically have generalized pain and tender spots throughout their body and often present with back pain, neck pain, headaches, as well as arm and/or leg pain. Chiropractic care can effectively reduce the pain associated with FM by reducing bony misalignments, restoring muscle tone, and improving posture. Proper exercise training has been found to be very important in maintaining long-term control of FM and is included in the management of FM. Diet and nutritional counseling may also be beneficial. Research has been very supportive of chiropractic care for patients suffering from FM.

Fibromyalgia: I Have It… Now What?

“…I was told by my doctor that I have fibromyalgia and I don’t know what to do. I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years that I’ve been having a progressively harder time doing simple tasks that I used to take for granted like folding laundry, ironing, cooking, cutting up vegetables, sewing, driving a car, holding a book, and even sleeping has become very challenging. I have to take many breaks while I’m doing these tasks and even take a nap in the middle of the day. I never used to have to do that! My family doctor initially seemed interested in helping me. He listened to me, took some blood, took some x-rays, and then said ‘….everything looks fine.’ His conclusion was that I must have fibromyalgia – I’ve never even heard of that! He prescribed many different drugs. One was to help me sleep but all it did was knock me out to the point where I couldn’t get up in the morning and felt so groggy that I couldn’t function. Then, he tried this other one and I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin! I’ve tried 3 or 4 different drugs and the side effects were all worse than what I’m dealing with, without the drugs. He finally concluded, ‘…you’ll just have to learn how to live with it.’ Well, thank you very much, doctor! Tell me HOW to do that?”

That feeling of helplessness and not knowing what to do next is a common complaint among fibromyalgia (FM) sufferers and the fact is, many patients with FM simply CAN’T just “…learn to live with it,” and need guidance.

One such patient recently presented in such situation. After a detailed history, the chiropractor checked her vital signs, performed a physical exam that included observation, palpation, range of motion, physical performance testing, orthopedic and neurological tests and then sat down to discuss the findings and what specific things chiropractic could offer her. The chiropractor laid out a treatment that consisted of the following:

  • Leg length correction: she had a 12mm short right leg, a tipped pelvis with a compensatory curve in the low back. Heel lifts were recommended.
  • Foot orthotics: she had flat feet and rolled in ankles that were altering her gait pattern.
  • Exercises: she was quite deconditioned (out of shape) and needed help with flexibility, strength and endurance, balance/coordination, and aerobic function.
  • Spinal manipulation: She had areas in her spine that were not properly moving and she had to compensate and use other parts too much, setting up faulty movement habits.
  • Nutritional counseling: She was consuming too many glutens (wheat, oats, barley, rice) which can make you feel tire/fatigued/”wiped out” all the time. She was placed on a strict gluten-free diet and encouraged to use of several nutrients.
  • They discussed “realistic goals.” This was probably the MOST important part for her. She was told NOT to expect a “cure” but rather, a means of “controlling” FM. It was emphasized that expecting “too much” will set her up for disappointment and treatment failure. They discussed ways she could control or minimize the symptoms of FM and what the role of chiropractic played in that management process. They also discussed finding a family doctor who was willing to work with her chiropractor.

Her doctor reports she is doing very well, independent of regular doctor visits, and is for the first time in a long time, happy with her ability to control her FM condition.