It is not uncommon for women to report feeling pain or experience an aggravation of pain during the postpartum period. This pain can be intense and debilitating, and can severely compromise a new mom’s functional capacity.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a relatively poorly understood chronic pain condition accounting for widespread individual, societal, workplace, and healthcare system costs, as well as significant patient and caregiver burden. Although FM affects all ages, racial, and ethnic groups, it overwhelmingly affects women when compared to men. The 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey conducted by Statistics Canada indicated that there were 389,782 people diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in Canada, most of them women (2). Patients with FM are often isolated by a lack of understanding of their condition and the treatment options available for their condition, which subsequently increases the burden of this disease.
Though the cause of this chronic, widespread pain condition is unknown, research has started to uncover a variety of potential triggers for this condition that may include: a genetic component, gene mutations involved in pain transmission, and a history of physical trauma (1).
How is it Diagnosed?
The nature of Fibromyalgia as a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ suggests that there may be numerous (un)discovered contributing factors or alternate root causes in relation to accurate diagnosis and management. In 2010, the American College of Rheumatology changed the diagnostic criteria for Fibromyalgia to include (3):
- A compulsory history of widespread pain lasting longer than 3 months
- Pain on both sides of the body
- Pain above and below the waist
- Score of >7 or 3-6 according to the Widespread Pain Index
- Score of 5 or 9 on the Symptom Severity Scale, the sum of the severity of 3 symptoms (fatigue, waking unrefreshed, cognitive symptoms) plus extent of somatic symptoms.
- Patient does not have a disorder that would otherwise explain the pain
- 11+ of 18 defined tender points present is not diagnostic in and of itself for the diagnosis of FM
Signs and Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is typically characterized by the presence of widespread musculoskeletal pain, non-restorative sleep, fatigue, and psychological distress with specific regions of localized tenderness in the absence of other pathologies. Additional symptoms may include (1):
- Morning stiffness
- Central Nervous System – decreased concentration, and short-term memory, brain fog, slowed processing
- Autonomic Nervous System – dizziness, digestive dysfunction, bladder disturbances, cardiac arrhythmias
- Neuroendocrine – heat and cold intolerances, abnormal appetite, weight changes, stress intolerance
- Immune – sore throat, flu-like symptoms, malaise, exacerbation of allergies, or development of new allergies
- Anxiety and depression
Naturopathic Care for the Management of Fibromyalgia
Naturopathic Medicine is a primary care health profession that aims to address the root cause of illness, while promoting health and healing using modern medical science along with natural therapies. It supports the body’s own healing using an integrated approach to disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention that includes the following therapies: Asian medicine and acupuncture, botanical medicine, physical medicine (such as massage and hydrotherapy), clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, and lifestyle counselling.
Establishing a strong foundation for health and healing, while also removing any potential obstacles to cure is important. This can be done by working to optimize sleep and stress management, and by emphasizing pacing as a means to avoid ‘crashing.’ Ensuring that an adequate support system comprised of family, friends, medical, occupational, and spiritual supports are in tact will also help to encourage a sustainable journey to health.
The inflammation and pain associated with FM is very real. As the majority of pain receptors are located within our gastrointestinal tract, ensuring optimal gut health is a must. This may mean identifying potential food sensitivities and allergies, or healing the gut, through dietary modifications and appropriate nutritional supplementation. Ensuring adequate energy and nutrients to promote healing is also important.
Using a variety of plant substances known to possess medicinal properties, botanical medicine may be effective in managing pain and decreasing inflammation, while also supporting energy and sleep. These substances work gently and effectively with minimal side effects.
Asian Medicine & Acupuncture:
This ancient medical system works to harmonize imbalances in the body and the flow of energy, Qi. The combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help support the immune system, increase circulation, while also stimulating the healing response. Many individuals find acupuncture effective for pain management.
Massage and hydrotherapy are two forms of physical medicine that have been found to be effective in providing symptomatic relief for those living with Fibromyalgia. Decreasing inflammation and increasing circulation can achieve natural pain management.
Homeopathic Medicine operates on the principle of “like cures like,” working in a subtle way to support the body in healing. It is often used to complement other therapies in the treatment of FM.
Fibromyalgia is a complex and challenging medical condition – an individualized approach to treatment is a necessity. Patient support and well-being should be the top priorities, while encouraging patient participation and empowerment throughout the process. It is important to seek out a health care provider that is knowledgeable in this area, and who will support your individual goals for treatment in helping you to achieve a better quality of life.
- Bested, Alison. Hope and Help for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. Naperville, IL: Cumberland House, 2006.
- National ME/FM Action Network. Accessed July 26, 2013 at www.mefmaction.com
- Wolfe et al. The American College of Rheumatology Preliminary Diagnostic Criteria for Fibromyalgia and Measurement of Symptom Severity. Arthritis Care & Research. May 2010 62(5):600-610.