This is another interview with a fellow fibro mama, this time we are learning about how one mama uses essential oils to manage chronic pain, fibromyalgia. Since this interview was conducted Kara welcomed her gorgeous baby.
Could you introduce yourself in a few sentences for us?
My name is Kara Carril, I’m 28, and soon-to-be first time mom! I live in Arizona with my husband and our two dogs, Diesel and Rain!
How did you get into essential oils for fibromyalgia?
My mom is a distributor for Young Living Essential Oils here in the US. After she had breast cancer 10 years ago, she got into living a more chemical-free lifestyle. She did a lot of research on essential oils and the potential help they could give to autoimmune diseases. She has fibromyalgia as well as ankylosing spondylitis amongst other health issues. The oils helped her pain management dramatically, so she eventually introduced them to me, and I was hooked!
What are your favourite ones and what do they help with?
The ones I use most often are lavender, frankincense, copaiba, PanAway (a blend), Valor (a blend), cedarwood, and eucalyptus/peppermint. I use lavender and cedarwood mixed with distilled water for a pillow spray before bed. It helps calm and relax to be able to go into a deeper sleep. I use lavender/cedarwood in mascara to help strengthen lashes (I know it’s not fibro related but a cool trick!-just a drop of each).
I use lavender/frankincense in homemade face soap with coconut oil and baking soda. PanAway I use on my back spasms. Valor and copaiba I also use on my back spasms. Valor is often referred to as a “chiropractor in a bottle” and copaiba is compared to “morphine in a bottle” and often enhances whatever other oils you use in conjunction with it. I use eucalyptus/peppermint on my sinuses and throat when I feel I’m getting sick, and I also use either with lavender and epsom salts in baths when I’m having a bad flare up.
I will stop using peppermint when I’m breastfeeding though because it is said to drastically reduce your milk supply (good for when you’re trying to stop producing though!).
“The ones I use most often are lavender, frankincense, copaiba, PanAway (a blend), Valor (a blend), cedarwood, and eucalyptus/peppermint.”
Do you have any blends you make yourself?
Lavender/Cedarwood for sleep/relaxation- 5-10 drops of each in a 3oz spray bottle filled with distilled water. Make the strength based on your scent preferences. I also spray it on the bottoms of my feet before bed or will use straight lavender drops when my feet are really sore. I also use this combo in my diffuser at night next to my bed.
I make a ton of diffuser blends based on what my needs are. Lemon/peppermint combo is really good for getting rid of stinky smells, lavender/cedarwood is great for relaxing/sleep. Orange and lemon or any citrus combination is great for morning and energy! Ginger, peppermint, and lemon is good for tummy aches too!
For more research into using essential oils in your journey you may like
As we know, fibromyalgia is a painful condition that many suffer from. In fact, it’s believed that in the United States alone, over 10 million people have some form of it. While medications might help calm symptoms, they don’t always have the best side effects or lasting results. Because of this, many often look for other methods they can use to help ease their symptoms.
This is a guest post from Dr. Brent Wells, a chiropractor who founded Alaska-based Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab. There is more detail about his work below.
Surprisingly, one of the best ways to help with fibromyalgia pain is to stretch. This is because it will reduce inflammation in the body and help to keep it active. Because of this, it will keep the body calm which can significantly reduce the symptoms of this medical issue. Below you’ll find more about why stretching is so important for those with fibromyalgia and some stretching options you can use to help with it.
Benefits of Stretching for Those Who Suffer From Fibromyalgia
There are many benefits that come with stretching if you have fibromyalgia. Below are some you’ll find if you do.
It Increases Serotonin and Endorphins in the Body
When you suffer from fibromyalgia, it can decrease the levels of serotonin and endorphins in your body. Serotonin and endorphins are neurotransmitters in the brain that help with emotions. When they have low levels, they cause the body to feel drowsy and irritable which can affect your mood and physical wellbeing. Stretching can help by boosting the levels of these two chemicals in the body. It will help to improve your overall mood which can lower the side effects of fibromyalgia, like anxiety and stress.
It Can Help with Muscle and Joint Movement
Stretching works to help increase muscle and joint movements in your body. This can prevent nerve pain as you will keep these areas active. It also helps you to be more flexible.
It Works to Improve the Heart
You might be surprised to learn that stretching can actually help to improve the heart. This is because it will expand the surrounding arteries and keep them open and pliable. It also reduces any fat around the heart and can help you to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
It Can Improve Your Sleep
Stretching can improve your sleep because it reduces tension in the body. It also helps to release endorphins which can make you feel better both mentally and physically. This will encourage your body to stay calm which can help you to get a better night’s sleep.
Stretching Options for Those with Fibromyalgia
If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you’ll find there are a few simple yet extremely beneficial stretching options you can consider trying out.
Make Circular Motions with Your Joints
One simple stretching option for those with fibromyalgia is to make gentle circular motions with your joints. For instance, move your ankles around in circular motions and then counterclockwise ones. This will help to awaken your muscles and joints in the area but do so in a simple and pain-free way.
Do Calf Stretches
Calf stretches are very important as it helps to relieve tension in the Achilles tendon. To do a calf stretch, place your hands on a flat surface, ideally a wall. After doing so, press and bend one leg forward while keeping one leg back. Lean gently against the leg that is forward and then switch it with your other leg. You can continue this stretch for a few minutes.
Try Aerobic Stretching
Aerobic stretching can be very simple and helps to keep your heart healthy. There are a few different types of aerobic stretching you can consider:
Circular arm motions: stand straight and hold your hands out sideways. Then, move them in circular motions forward and then backward.
Jogging in place: you can stand in one place and start doing a gentle mini jog. This doesn’t have to be intense, just a few minutes of you slowly running in place.
Do Pool Exercises
Stretching in a pool can help you to move around more freely because the water doesn’t mix with gravity. This can make it feel as if you’re floating and give you more mobility. There are plenty of pool exercises to consider doing that are very easy to do. Some include:
Sidestepping: hold on to the pool’s wall and then take about 20 steps to one side while holding on to the wall. You can then reverse the direction.
Knee lift: hold on to the pool’s wall and carefully lift one knee up to your chest. Hold this position for about five seconds and then switch to the next leg.
Hip kicks: stand with your body sideways to the pool’s wall while holding on to it. Then, lift one leg up in the water as if you are kicking something and then switch to your other leg. Continue this motion with both legs for a few minutes.
Keep in mind though that if you feel any pain when doing stretches, stop immediately. This could not only worsen your fibromyalgia pain, but cause muscle strains and injuries. Fibromyalgia doesn’t have to overtake your life. By doing simple stretches, you can work to naturally relieve many of its symptoms. Better yet, most of them are very easy to do so everyone can try them out no matter what stage of fibromyalgia you might have. Because of this, stretching is ideal to implement into your lifestyle to help give you relief.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Alaska-based Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in 1998 and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.
Insomnia is a serious and often ignored problem, especially for people with chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.
I would like to suggest that we need to take this more seriously.
This is a long post. You may want to grab a cuppa and get comfortable! If you have fibromyalgia and brain fog is an issue, there is a handy (free) PDF document below for you to download!
The video: Insomnia and Fibromyalgia
Key facts about insomnia and fibromyalgia
A key problem for people with fibromyalgia and many other chronic illnesses
Debilitating and makes other already incapacitating symptoms worse
A recipe for a shorter, less fulfilled life
Pain inducing – even for those without chronic pain conditions
A money drain – in health care costs from those who suffer the side effects, in absenteeism from inability to work, in lost income, if you could place a value on a fully functioning human being able to participate fully in life then multiply that by the 10 million people estimated in the US alone (and 3-6% of the world’s population) it would be a massive number.
Sleep helps pretty much every symptom of fibromyalgia
Sleep improves our quality of life and our emotional state
We can improve sleep! It might be multi factorial and a doctor needs to help in many cases, but we can improve sleep.
Shall we take a look into the literature that supports my statements?
Does insomnia lead to death?
Laboratory animals subjected to extreme sleep deprivation can die relatively swiftly of unknown causes — exactly what goes wrong is not clear, but their body temperatures start to drop and then they suffer rapid and widespread physiological failure. 
Does insomnia cause pain?
“According to the majority of the studies, sleep deprivation produces hyperalgesic changes.” (That means yes!)
What side effects does insomnia cause? A summary based upon all of the research I have ever done and experienced after more than a decade living with it:
Anxiety and/or depression
Sleep as a treatment for pain
“More broadly, our findings highlight sleep as a novel therapeutic target for pain management within and outside the clinic, including circumstances where sleep is frequently short yet pain is abundant (e.g. the hospital setting).”
Why is sleep a novel (or innovative) treatment for pain??
So we have found that research supports insomnia as life threatening, costing money, leading to pain (and sleep is a treatment for pain) what is the insomnia problem specifically relating to fibromyalgia?
What is insomnia, exactly?
Trouble falling asleep
Difficulty staying asleep
Waking too early
Not achieving good quality sleep
What’s happening for people with fibromyalgia and sleep?
Dr Ginevra Liptan, MD, writes about sleep in her book The Fibro Manual (2016):
“Sleep studies show that Fibromyalgia subjects show abnormal ‘awake-type’ brain waves all night long, with reduced and interrupted deep sleep and frequent ‘mini-awakenings’ (Brandi 1994; Kooh 2003). This deep-sleep deprivation leads to pain, fatigue, and poor brain function (Lerma 2011; Moldofsky 2008; Harding 1998). Treatment focused on increasing deep sleep is the key to improving all these symptoms.”
In plain terms, people with Fibromyalgia don’t tend to reach stage four of the sleep cycle (the deep, restorative stage), and therefore, they suffer from chronic, deep sleep deprivation, which causes all sorts of issues with the body: pain, fatigue, fog, anxiety, etc.
Insomnia—along with poor sleep in general—is believed to make fibromyalgia symptoms more severe, which means treating your sleep problems may have the secondary effect of improving pain, fibro fog, and more.
Let’s just repeat that – treating sleep should help with pain, fatigue and fibro fog.
How have I experienced insomnia?
Every single night for more than a decade (including my entire twenties), despite researching and using a lot of sleep hygiene tips and natural sleep aids, having trouble falling asleep, not staying asleep for more than one hour at a time, spending time awake in the night too exhausted to get up but too sore to remain lying still and waking feeling more tired than I went to bed.
This was while on the only option the doctor every offered me – amitriptyline.
Finally in 2017 I began taking low dose naltrexone and it helped me to start sleeping in blocks of up to a few hours. This made such a difference on my quality of life. But I still struggle with insomnia every single day.
I can’t imagine how much more I could achieve if I could sleep well. Or what it might have been like if my doctors had been willing to work with me to help me achieve more sleep. Even utilizing low doses of medicines for a short amount of time to achieve some rest, like two prominent physicians who have fibromyalgia and treat patients with it suggest (Dr Teitelbaum From Fatigued to Fantastic and Dr Liptan The Fibro Manual – thank you so much to these two doctors who have done so much for our community).
I was miserable and missed out on the usual things one does in their twenties. I couldn’t do my OE, I could hardly make it through the day let alone travel long distances.
Now, with the amount of sleep I’ve been able to reclaim I am managing day to day, but I still experience severe costs. I cannot stay up late, it is difficult to manage my children myself, I cannot work and when I do work I can only manage part-time work (so a cost of 30,000-80,000 per year lost there). Add the costs of things I need to manage such as the low dose naltrexone prescription, doctors’ visits, supplements, physiotherapy, and the many, many things I have tried to help myself. Add in the impact on my quality of life of dealing with chronic pain all day every day. I don’t know what a pain free day might look like!
And there are people who are worse off than me.
What do other people with fibromyalgia and insomnia say?
“Fibromyalgia insomnia is a very real issue for me. I am currently breastfeeding a six month old. She wakes for one feed a night and resettles quickly back to sleep. It then takes me two to three hours to get myself back to sleep. I am exhausted. I have not had a good night sleep in years.” – Amanda
“Where do I start? It’s a vicious cycle in so many ways. If it’s not the pain keeping me up, it’s restless leg syndrome or another of the plethora of symptoms and comorbid disorders that come with fibro. Otherwise, it’s pure anxiety from having night terrors brought on by my medication and the trauma that landed me with fibro in the first instance. The more I get into a terrible sleeping pattern, the worse my pain and other symptoms get, the worse my mental health gets, the worse my relationships get because I just cannot function or am not physically able or awake to conduct a “normal” life. And of course all of these things contribute to not being able to sleep or sleep well. Which perpetuates the issue.
While I was at uni my insomnia was seriously affecting my studies but I got flat out told by several doctors that they refused all students sleeping meds because they were so highly abused. I cried in Drs appointments, I cried as I lay awake at night in pain, I cried when I was forced to ask for extensions on my coursework, I cried when I got sub-standard grades because I knew it wasn’t a reflection on my ability but my circumstance. It’s such an underestimated burden that so many are forced to “put up with” because “everyone’s stressed” or “everyone’s tired” for one reason or another. I wish it was taken as seriously as my pain, which has had all manner of meds thrown at it. I’m sure it hurts me just as much.” – Rebekah
So for them, and for me, I want to beg doctors to take the sleep problem much more seriously. I want to beg researchers to look into how we can fix this (ideally without long term drug use).
If you are suffering from insomnia and fibromyalgia what can you do?
Beg for help – show your doctor you have tried all the things and hope for help!
Would you like to come and learn about a type of yoga that is super gentle, restful and can help you sleep? Join my free workshop.
Step four discusses using the breath as an energy source, “Pranayama can increase your fitness and energy levels – without getting out of bed!”
Step five is the actual yoga! Kuran provides a more active routine, a gentle restorative routine and discusses yoga Nidra.
“Like other forms of meditation, yoga Nidra helps release serotonin and decrease cortisol which lowers your stress response.” I adore yoga Nidra and it’s a vital part of my coping when I’m tired, especially when I have tiny babies and am not sleeping much at night – so I always enjoy learning more about it.
I loved the suggestion that even in a flare up we can do yoga. Practicing yoga doesn’t mean a big routine or even physical movement – Kuran points out that even visualizing yourself doing yoga poses can be useful. A breathing practice while lying in bed is sufficient. This makes yoga such a useful tool for those fighting chronic fatigue – its adaptability.
If you enact the action points suggested at the end of each step you will be a long way toward a holistic healing process.
I highly recommend this book and yoga if you struggle with chronic fatigue.
Get your reading on
Purchase your copy from Amazon here. (Affiliate link: Please note that if you make a purchase using my link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you).
If you love reading like me try Amazon Kindle Unlimited Membership – you can try your first month free and access unlimited reading or listening on any device! They now have magazines too! It’s also available for those of us who use Amazon.com.au *squee*.
If audio books are more your speed, as they are for me with three little ones, you know you can get a free trial of Audible on Amazon here. I’ve recently started reading a lot more audio books as the hands free option is far easier to access with the wee ones. You will get access to two audio books, plus two Audible Originals, and other cool membership options for 30 days. Cancel anytime if you don’t want the full subscription.
Copaiba essential oil is relatively new in the chronic pain relief discussion however has been widely used in traditional health practices since the 16th century.
What is copaiba essential oil?
The essential oil is distilled from a resin that comes from tapping the Copaiba tree.
What it does
It works in the endocannibinoid system- much like low dose naltrexone, cannabis and CBD oil. Copaiba is thought to directly effect receptors that deal in the nervous system with effects in inflammation, endocrine system, pain, cardiovascular system and more. The nervous system is a part we would like to positively influence in fibromyalgia.
I have found success with low dose naltrexone and write about that here. So when I found out that CBD oil can work synergistically with LDN, I put it on my mental wishlist.
Unfortunately CBD oil is classified the same as cannabis under the law in New Zealand. Meaning it will be a long time before I can try it. People with certain conditions can receive a prescription for it but if they do get one, the CBD oil is very expensive.
Topically is the most often recommended way to utilise essential oils. You can also diffuse or inhale. Some companies say you can ingest their oils if they are food grade. Do check with a qualified professional about this as some oils can be dangerous if ingested.
Also remember that essential oils are like super charged herbal teas – they are way more concentrated so a little goes a long way. Please check with a medical professional before using essential oils to ensure safety of their use and any potential drug interactions.
My experience with copaiba
It was suggested that I try either one drop sublingually (under the tongue) or a drop with some coconut oil topically where the pain occurs.
I found it difficult to administer the sublingual drop but found you can take a drop in water or juice.
On the first night, after being unable to get a drop under my tongue I wiped the dropper saw some oil in my finger and wiped that under my tongue. I did seem to be able to fall asleep faster than I had been.
The next day I tried a drop in coconut oil and placed it directly on my neck and shoulders – my trigger points had been playing up since a car accident a few weeks prior and those muscles became more tight and sore again. It really seemed to help. The effect was probably amplified as I lay down to do a 30 minute meditation too.
It became my go to for increased muscle pain and tightness in my shoulders and neck. It was especially useful as my trigger points were flared up due to a car accident and being unable to take a muscle relaxant while breastfeeding.
I am super excited for this addition to my pain plan!
Where to get your own to try?
Eden’s Garden is voted the number one non MLM essential oil company and has copaiba – not all companies do. You can get that here. (Affiliate link, I will receive a small commission if you purchase using this link at no extra cost to you).
You may recall a few weeks ago I shared about what a coach is and why I became one. I shared about how my mission is to help other people improve their quality of life and thrive despite fibromyalgia. For several years I have been showing you how I fight fibromyalgia and now I want to help you do the same thing.
Today I want to share with you my programmes – Kickstart Your Fight Against Fibromyalgia.
These are for you if you would like to sleep better, calm your central nervous system, make the most of your energy, manage your pain and craft your vision of “thriving despite chronic illness”.
I want to also ask you a favour – if you know someone who is struggling with fibromyalgia could you please share this with them? I so wish these programmes existed when I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other as a 20-something person with nothing more than my heat pack and pain killers that hurt my tummy and didn’t help much. I definitely had no one who understood. I created these programs while remembering what I would have wished for, if I knew what to wish for!
The traditional coaching model where we sit down one-on-one and you set the agenda, we make goals and work on them. For 45 minutes at a time we focus on you and your well being journey – we discuss where you are at, your goals, what you are trying and would like to try and fine tune your plans with someone who has been where you are and gets it. We use the six key areas to fight fibromyalgia as our framework. Check out my work with me page to see how you can request your complimentary consultation.
“It [coaching] was like a reset point, where Melissa helped me to focus on the goals I have by breaking it down into smaller goals.” – A client
“Melissa has a wealth of knowledge and tools to help others along with a passion to help.” – A client
Drop me an email at email@example.com. Or Schedule your complimentary chat if you would like to ask any questions, let me know your goals and be sure that these programmes might be a good fit for you.
To get an idea of how I work you can:
Look through the blog archives – my blog is featured as one of Healthline’s top Fibromyalgia blogs of 2019
Have you heard about the concept of using a coach to help you with your wellness goals? Specifically a coach to support you in your journey fighting fibromyalgia? In this post I summarise why, benefits, what life coaching is and isn’t and how to choose one.
Why a Coach for Fibromyalgia?
Struggling with pain, fatigue, insomnia, brain fog and the host of other symptoms that come with fibromyalgia can mean daily life is difficult enough without trying to figure out how tackle these symptoms.
If I had had someone who could have said “I believe you. Here is a place to start. How are you, really?” My journey would have been much shorter. I would not have lost the entirety of my twenties to the fight.
Have you heard of the analogy of most health services being an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff? I envision coaches to come and walk beside you from the top of the cliff down the (tricky) path on the other side.
Benefits of Fibromyalgia Coaching
Dr Liptan promotes the concept in this article…because she knows a doctor cannot possibly help put the jigsaw puzzle together with you in their tiny allotted appointments. She also discusses coaching with Tami Stackelhouse (founder of the International Fibromyalgia Coaching Institute) in this video.
An article about a study on health coaching in 2016 states that “Telephonic coaching has been found to be an effective means for behavior change while also providing a convenience for the patient and clinician. Appel et al.”
In the study, nine patients participated –
At the conclusion of 12 months results included that Revised Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire scores improved by 35%. Illnesses interference in function was reduced by 44%.
Fill the gap in the current healthcare system that people with fibromyalgia are falling through – helping patients to enact what doctors suggest but don’t have the time to show them how to do
Reduce the time it takes to put together a wellness plan
Increased functionality (you do more)
Decreased impact on your life
A partnership between coach and client where the coach supports, encourages and provides accountability while the client works toward their goals.
In future models healthcare for chronic illness is likely to include partnerships between client, doctor, physical practitioners, coaches and more. The current healthcare system where patients rely on doctors is not working. We have to realise we have control and start working collaboratively.
Coaching is not
Therapy or the coach taking control for the client. The only expert in your body and condition is you.
Why I Chose to Become a Coach Specialising Fibromyalgia and Mindfulness
At the beginning of this year, I was wondering what to do next in my career. With three small children and fibromyalgia it was becoming clear that I could no longer balance work, life, health and making the resources I have made to help others fight fibromyalgia. When I visualised my ideal job, it was fibromyalgia coaching! Except that it took me a while to put the pieces together.
I have since studied to become a Certified Life Coach and Certified Mindfulness Coach through the Transformation Academy.
I am supremely passionate about helping others take control of their healing journey – because I believe self-efficacy is vital. We make small decisions all day every day which add up to impact our quality of life.
How I work
We work together to set your vision for what “thriving despite fibromyalgia” means for you, set goals and I will walk beside you as you achieve these.
I provide research, advice on how to find more information, my personal experience and help you work through the information and your own goals and ideas.
My philosophy is very positive but realistic. I have done the work myself and dragged myself from miserable and barely coping to thriving despite the fibromyalgia and I expect anyone who works with me to be ready to do the work.
In short, I empower you to take control of your healing journey.
If You’re Considering Working with a Coach
Go through their blog, books, products, videos etc. To see if their style gels with yours. Coaching generally takes place over a longer term period, unless you have a smaller goal so you want to be comfortable with the person you choose.
Ask yourself what you would like to achieve – I am able to help you break big goals down into manageable chunks but we do need to have reasonable expectations.
This post is Fibromyalgia 101: I share what Fibromyalgia is, the definition, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options and more.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain-based illness of unknown origin and cure. It effects approximately 3-6% of the world’s population. It is said to effect far more women than men, but there are definitely men who suffer with it too. It appears in-discriminatory in race, education level and socioeconomic demographics.
I have struggled with this illness for most of my life. I have also put a lot of work into my wellness journey. In 2017 I was the most well I had been since I was 17 years old. In 2020 I am the most well I can ever remember being. This does not mean that I am not affected 24/7 – I just have it as well managed as I possibly can.
For a brief run down of what Fibromyalgia is, the symptoms and some treatments see below.
Fibromyalgia 101 What is It?
On the University of Maryland Medical Center website, Fibromyalgia is explained in this way: “Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons; fatigue; and multiple tender points on the body.”
And on the same page, they list the signs and symptoms of Fibromyalgia:
Widespread pain and stiffness
Fatigue [and]/or trouble sleeping
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Heightened sensitivity to noises, bright lights, smells
Pain after exertion
Memory lapses/difficulty concentrating
Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
However, the trouble is that Fibromyalgia seems to be very unique to each person: how it comes on, what symptoms are present, what helps said symptoms.
There is also a debate as to whether trigger points are present in Fibromyalgia or part of a separate issue called Myofascial Pain Syndrome. A lot of the above symptoms overlap with a lot of different conditions.
Some Associated Physiological Abnormalities
Research has found alterations in neurotransmitter regulation, immune system function, sleep physiology and hormone level control. A lot of research suggests that Fibromyalgia is the result of central nervous system dysfunction – specifically an overactive nervous system, stressing and exhausting the brain (Dennis W. Dobritt, Fibromyalgia – A Brief Overview).
Getting Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
This great article from Fibro Daze explains why it takes so long to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the process and the Widespread Pain Index and Symptom Severity Scale.
Long story short, it takes a long time to be diagnosed – years on average and multiple doctors – because it is a tricky illness with no widely accepted test and because a multitude of other illnesses must be ruled out. This is particularly difficult because Fibromyalgia tends to co-exist with a multitude of other conditions. It is a disease of mimicking and misdiagnosis.
Fibromyalgia 101: Treating It
We have been told it is incurable, but that is only because they don’t know what causes it. But some smart people are working on it and I believe we will see progress soon.
There are a multitude of treatment options on offer. Some of them help a little, some help a lot, some help one person a lot and another person a little – therein lies the difficulty.
I have been sharing my journey for the past several years because I want to help you cut down the time it takes you to find what helps you. I have carefully researched, trialed and written about all of the treatment options I have tried.
There are few certainties in treating Fibromyalgia but here are some from a seasoned Fibromyalgia fighter:
Treatment will require multiple options (natural and medicinal)
One option can help me incredibly and you not at all and vice versa
Sleep is king. Tackle sleep first. With medication if you must. This is a widely agreed finding from key doctors who treat Fibromyalgia including Dr Liptan, Dr Teitelbaum and Dr Vallings.
Check out “pregnancy” and “parenting” in the categories box (below or beside this post) for articles to help you have the best pregnant possible despite Fibromyalgia.
All My Articles on Fibromyalgia
Look at “fibromyalgia” in the category box for all of the articles that I have created to help you fight Fibromyalgia. There are over 250 of them.
My Journey: 2020
As of 2020 I am enjoying my best quality of life that I can ever remember. Thanks to low dose naltrexone, yoga, meditation and all the things I have enacted to be more well. I am so thankful every day.
I am hopeful and I am excited as to what the future brings.
My hope for you is that you keep fighting for yourself. Don’t wait for a doctor to do it for you. But do work with your doctor, find another if they won’t.
Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS) is a term I came across in 2017, when a physiotherapist finally explained that this is what was causing my severe neck issues. In this post we go through what it is, examine if it’s part of Fibromyalgia, and my at-home treatments.
Remember: I bring together research, resources and my personal experience as a STARTING point for your own consideration. Please always check in with your medical team. We are all so different in what works and doesn’t work that other people’s experiences are helpful but not going to be a template for you.
Also it is worth noting that a healthy person with trigger points is a much different proposition than someone with fibromyalgia. With the fibromyalgia we need to factor in the central sensitization and central nervous system overactivation. It’s complex!
Definition of Myofascial Pain Syndrome
A good definition of Myofascial Pain Syndrome that I have come across explains it as: “hyper irritable spots, usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle or in the muscle’s fascia that is painful on compression and can give rise to characteristic referred pain, tenderness, and autonomic phenomena” 1
Are Trigger Points Part of Fibromyalgia?
There is often confusion between the tender points characteristic of Fibromyalgia and trigger points. This article discusses the differences and similarities and provides a chart for distinguishing between the two.
The propensity for medical professionals to throw every symptom into the Fibromyalgia basket set me back for a decade. If they had realised prior to 2017 that my neck pain was really caused by trigger points, then we could have begun working on them sooner. These tiny hyper irritable spots have caused me over ten years of sleepless nights and 24/7 pain that nothing completely relieved.
Whether or not one wants to accept trigger points as part of Fibromyalgia or separate, research has noted that where trigger points are present in those with Fibromyalgia, the treatment of trigger points relieves the Fibromyalgia symptoms associated – such as pain in that area and fatigue.
Diagnostic Criteria and Prevalence for Myofascial Pain Syndrome
MPS does not have universally accepted diagnostic criteria, so it also does not have reliable statistics as to the prevalence. An estimate, using data around musculoskeletal pain in general puts estimates of myofascial pain as a patient’s primary complaint at 30%. 2
However the presence of a trigger point in the muscle that causes referred pain (and often secondary symptoms) is often enough for a physical therapist to treat these.
Fibromyalgia or other conditions, especially inflammatory ones
Postural (including bad ergonomics at the computer)
Trauma to the area
Excessive or lack of exercise
Treatment for Trigger Points
The above quoted literature review (2) discusses general treatments for MPS: aside from eliminating as many aggravators of the condition as possible (like proper ergonomic posture at computers), treating any other present diseases, the treatment usually includes NSAIDS (usually stated as unhelpful for Fibromyalgia), heat pack, and acupuncture applied by a specific methodology.
In my case, I found that placing acupuncture needles into the trigger point (gently, without aiming for muscle reactions like in dry needling) and leaving them in for 10-15 minutes followed by neck mobilisations and tractions, provides the best relief I have found. By going to a physiotherapist to do this every three weeks, in addition to my home treatment plan, is the best way to treat the trigger points. But they always come back. We have made some progress over the past year, but they are always there and re-triggered rather easily.
Whatever may work for you, it is likely to be multi modal – involving a few treatment options, including pharmacologic and alternative approaches.
Avoid perpetuating factors(this is huge)
Hit the actual trigger points manually
Self-trigger point work
Heat (to help the pain and muscle)
Medicine (again for the pain and muscle)
Stretching (I find dynamic stretching more valuable than static)
Gentle exercise (to keep muscles healthy and moving)
I find dynamic stretching the most useful for me. A lot of people love yoga and a lot of people say it doesn’t work at all for them. This is because what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Also, one should delve into how you know if yoga helps. How have you tried it? Have you tried the different options on offer? If you have tried a class in a studio or a random YouTube class not designed for chronic pain then you likely haven’t tried the right yoga for you.
For chronic pain and fatigue we generally look at gentle, mindful movement with breath front and center. My trigger points seem to respond better to dynamic stretching, not long static holds with any weight bearing. So crow pose (a pose where you balance your body on your arms) really flares up my trigger points. But child’s pose (a supported, relaxing pose) makes me feel so much better.
Restorative yoga is a great, passive practice good for bringing the central nervous system down and helping the body to relax.
Slow flow yoga is a gentle practice where you mindfully move through a couple of poses. Like cat and cow pose together (I love this for my neck and back).
For us, a “class” can mean a two pose flow for a couple of minutes. Or a yoga nidra guided meditation for 30 minutes in the middle of the day. Or one 15 minute surrender into supported child’s pose.
But if yoga is not your cup of tea, check out the other ideas.
Your Trigger Point Toolkit
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The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook – this is a much more detailed (like a textbook) book about trigger points, perpetuating factors and how to treat. This is the gold standard of information, but it is trickier to understand. Highly worth getting into if you really want to tackle trigger points.
Foam roller – I have a small, firm foam roller which I like to use on the bigger muscles like glutes, legs and back.
Heat pack – this is one of the top five pain management mechanisms I use. I use my heat pack every single day. It is recommended to warm up the muscle you are treating before you try trigger point release. Afterward you can stretch and then reapply heat.
Deep heat cream – I use this on my neck, shoulders and back trigger points all the time. The heat infused cream combined with gentle massage is so good.
Yoga for Chronic Pain and Fatigue – here is my free five minutes a day for five days challenge for you to gently incorporate some yoga, stretching and breathing into your day. My focus is on dynamic stretching rather than long, static stretches but also in showing you how to find what feels best for you.
Your turn: Do you have trigger points too? How do you treat them?
Travell, JG, Simons, DG. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The Trigger Point Manual: Upper Half of Body, 2nd edition. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore 1988.
Overview of soft tissue rheumatic disorders Author:Irving Kushner, MDSection Editor:Zacharia Isaac, MDDeputy Editor:Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH Literature review current through: Mar 2018. | This topic last updated: May 12, 2017. on UptoDate.com
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