Chronic pain takes many shapes and forms, but we know that it has a huge social and economic burden. The Institute of Medicine reports that roughly 116 million, or 30% of the population suffer from pain lasting a year or longer. Although chronic pain isn’t a life threating issue, it’s certainly a problem that has a dramatic effect on the quality of someone’s life. After taking care of hundreds of people with conditions like fibromyalgia, I know that these people experience quite a toll both physically and emotionally.
Perhaps the worst part about fibromyalgia is that there is no known cause or cure. It’s basically invisible to any blood tests or MRI studies, and most of the drugs available are for pain control. People with fibromyalgia may often be depressed, have anxiety, and have a sense of isolation because they don’t feel that their friends and family understand their struggle. This is often compounded by the fact that their doctors have told them that the pain is psychosomatic, or just in their minds because no tests can reveal an underlying disease process.
In recent years, fibromyalgia has become one of the most published topics in medical journals. As a result, we are starting to develop an understanding of the disease on a deeper level to know that it’s certainly NOT just in the patient’s mind. Research is pointing to problems within the central nervous system and tiny blood vessels in the skin as a likely cause of the deep body-wide pain.
But what does this mean in terms of treatment?
For most people, drugs that target the nervous system like Lyrica or Gabapentin are the first line of treatment and many have had success. However, some patients can be sensitive to drug reaction, or their bodies may develop a high tolerance for the dosages. In cases like these, many patients start to seek out alternative therapies like acupuncture, reiki, and/or homeopathy.
Traditional chiropractic has also been a source of relief for many people seeking help with chronic pain. However, due to the perceived forceful nature of nature of many chiropractic techniques, many patients with fibromyalgia are reluctant to try chiropractic care.
Not All Adjustments Are Built the Same
In chiropractic, there are dozens of techniques and approaches to correcting the spine. Some are heavy handed and require a lot of force, while others are very specific and rely more on precision. It’s not to say that one is better than the other, but some are just designed for a specific patient population in mind.
While many chiropractors will treat the site of pain, at TruCentered Chiropractic Care we focus on NeuroStructural Correction of the head and neck. Many patients who suffer from fibromyalgia have been involved in some sort of head and neck trauma, even if they didn’t show signs of pain after the incident. The may include car accidents as slow as 15 mph.
This approach is effective because of the spine's influence on the central nervous system. When the atlas displacement complex is present, it can affect the brain stem and cause people to be hypersensitive to even the smallest sensation. You can think of it like this, the brain is like a computer that relies on spinal positioning to operate normally. When there are garbage signals going into the brain, then garbage signals come out in the form of pain. This phenomenon in fibromyalgia patients creates a condition called central sensitization. This is the reason why people with fibromyalgia can feel excruciating pain from a light touch. It’s not that there’s a physical injury, but the nervous system is getting scrambled signals and is primed to experience pain.
This is NOT designed to cure you. The cure lies in the fact that the body is capable of healing itself. When you remove interference to the body’s self-healing ability, I find that people can return to a level where life is livable again. By breaking the pain cycle through the nervous system, you can impact the way stress affects the body and the immune system. By no means is this a cure all, but it can be a great catalyst to being steered back on the path towards a normal life. I’ve seen numerous patients who’ve been able to go from disability to working or resuming exercise again in a matter of months.
One of the greatest joys of doing this type of work is giving people a glimmer of hope. So many people are convinced that they have to live in pain, or have been told that the problem they’re having is all in their heard. In my office, I’ve helped hundreds of people recover from chronic pain with this procedure. However, it’s not for everyone. Only people with a problem in their Atlas can receive this type of care, and that requires a detailed Upper Cervical NeuroStructural Chiropractic Examination to identify the problem. Sometimes a little bit of hope is all a person needs to start healing again.
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Dr. Harris is a Life By Design Chiropractor practicing in Annapolis, MD.