Until recently, fibromyalgia was often confused with chronic fatigue syndrome, and sufferers were told they just had to suck it up and live with it.
The syndrome, characterized by widespread pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons that can disrupt sleep and cause depression, anxiety and fatigue, is still little understood, but at least it's taken seriously these days. Those diagnosed with it are no longer told they're nuts. Interestingly, it affects four times as many women as men. Why is it that the illnesses most common in women are the ones we're told are all in our heads? Seriously.
The FDA has now approved the very first drug specifically for this condition, which is also treated with acupuncture, herbs, massage, injections, yoga, Ayurveda - and a lot of faith.
What the experts say
"Diet is the cornerstone [of managing fibromyalgia]. It's the same old song about fruits and vegetables and whole grains, particularly fruits and vegetables rich in colour, since patients with fibromyalgia are under increased oxidative stress and some research shows that antioxidants may be helpful. Research also indicates that fibromylagia patients are very sensitive to aspartame and monosodium glutamate. Benzoates are another one. Key supplements are fish oil and something like Greens+ which is a good fallback to make sure you're getting those colourful pigments. Acupuncture is not a cure but can improve the symptoms of chronic pain. Meditation, mindfulness, stress-reduction techniques are very important in dealing with mental symptoms like depression and anxiety. Moderate exercise is also important."
Alan Logan, naturopath, co-author, Hope And Help For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome And Fibromyalgia, New York
"The real focus should be on herbs that have an adrenal tonic effect, also known as adaptagens. They help the body to adapt to stress and boost the immune system, like licorice root, also a good anti-inflammatory, and a wonderful herb from India called withania root, [good for] stress, pain and inflammation. North American ginseng is good as a general restorative herb. Classic anti-inflammatory herbs include willow bark for inflammation and pain, Jamaican dogwood and meadowsweet. Passion flower is good for the nervous system and muscular pain. Also rosemary both internally and externally. You can also do a gentle massage using essential oils of lavender or rosemary."
CelinA Ainsworth, herbalist, Toronto
"I approach fibromyalgia with a combination of physical therapy and various forms of injections. Sometimes nerve blockade and my patented form of spinal botox can be used in certain cases. I use shockwave for trigger point therapy release, a laser magnetic device and micro-current therapy. Fifty per cent of patients have been in a major accident or suffered a neck and/or lower back injury resulting in multiple disc disease. It becomes very difficult to treat because of the extensive spinal disease. Extreme anxiety and depression can be other contributing factors. Two-thirds of the trigger points of fibromyalgia are between the skull and upper chest. You can technically have fibromyalgia with minimal lower body problems, but cannot have it with only lower body problems. Men generally have stronger upper bodies and arms and are less likely to develop neck and upper back injuries. Breasts can also increase the weight load on the upper back and thoracic spine."
Blair Lamb, MD, pain and spinal rehabilitation, Toronto
"Certainly all kinds of breathing and relaxation techniques are going to help. Feldenkrais helps you use your body in a more balanced way. You learn to reduce the effort, so circulation will improve. People with fibromyalgia are usually very uptight and in discomfort. An exercise to reduce stress and even out their emotional state would be extremely beneficial. The simple exercise of abdominal breathing - watching your breath, allowing the belly to gently expand and contract, imagining a balloon in the belly that expands to 360° (not just pushing out the belly) and focusing your attention on your breath, then developing that focus to a state where you can actually direct the breath to different areas of your body - can create a release."
Marion Harris, director, Feldenkrais Centre, Toronto
"We say that aches and pains in the body are because of vatta imbalance. Also, fibromyalgia can be due to accumulation of toxins, chronic indigestion, chronic stress. You have to go to the root cause of why this person developed this condition. If it's because of stress, you have to remove stress. Panchakarma [a detoxification process] is a good approach to remove toxins, [involving] herbal massage followed by a sauna. Shirodhara [an herbal oil flow around the head] is also very useful. You also have to take care of diet and nutrition, and [practise] some yoga."
Krupali Desai, Ayurvedic practitioner, New York