Fibromyalgia is a pain in the… Well, it’s a pain in the everything. A chronic condition, fibromyalgia causes pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles throughout the entire body.
It also causes vague, widespread pain in areas of various internal organs (a fibromyalgia sufferer may complain of unexplained chest or abdominal pain, for instance).
Another symptom of fibromyalgia is extreme, chronic fatigue. During a fibromyalgia flare up, some patients struggle to even get out of bed.
They may experience headaches or extreme sensitivity to lights, noise, scents or touch. Both men and women with fibromyalgia may experience problems with their sex drive, with the former often experiencing erectile dysfunction and the latter suffering with pain in the vaginal area.
Fibromyalgia patients of both sexes are more likely to be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal ailments.
Doctors simply aren’t sure what kicks off fibromyalgia in some people’s bodies or what causes it to flare up once the condition is there. One common theory is that fibromyalgia—although very real in its physical symptoms—may be caused by emotional trauma (such as abuse or the loss of a loved one).
Researchers think that people who suffer from fibromyalgia have central nervous systems that process information in a way that results in overstimulation and oversensitivity in everything from joint sensation to the way sufferers experience sights and sounds. This results in pain and discomfort both inside and out.
Sciatica: A Common Complaint
One of the common issues that fibromyalgia patients experience is sciatica, also known as piriformis syndrome.
This is caused when the spinal canal narrows (either due to bone spurs or a slipped disc) and squeezes nerves in the lower or lumbar area of a person’s back.
The result of this nerve impingement is typically pain in the gluteal area. The pain in the buttocks is typically one-sided and may shoot down the leg on that side. Some people describe the pain as a searing or tingling pain (as opposed to an aching pain).
Sciatica often gets worse while sitting—especially for long periods of time. People who experience sciatica may be alarmed at noticing numbness or weakness in the affected leg or foot.
They may have difficulty moving it and may have trouble standing up or walking. The pain may be mild and random or it may be extreme and constant.
What Should I Do For Sciatica?
As with any pain, anyone experiencing sciatic nerve pain should visit their doctor first. Your doctor can make sure that the pain you are experiencing is caused by sciatica and can best work with you to come up with a successful treatment plan.
Acupuncture, Chiropractic, and Massage
Although both treatment plans take time, visiting an acupuncturist or a chiropractor can help soothe and resolve your sciatica.
Acupuncture, an often-used treatment in traditional Chinese medicine, uses tiny needles to stimulate the muscles and nerves, as well as the connective tissues throughout the body.
It may only take one session or it can take as many as twelve to see relief, but acupuncture can help relieve inflammation and promote healing.
A chiropractor focuses on the musculoskeletal system and can help to manipulate the spine in order to realign it.
This is particularly helpful if your sciatica is caused by derangement of the spine that is pressing on the affected nerve.
Like acupuncture, chiropractic may take repeated visits to provide relief. Most people go three or four times a week and gradually go less as they begin to see improvement.
Massage for acupuncture is different than a relaxing, spa-day massage. In order to treat sciatica, your massage therapist will need to do something called a trigger point massage.
These intense massages target trigger points that can cause inflammation and pain in various areas of the body. Although a trigger point massage may hurt at the moment, it can provide real relief in the days afterwards.
Achieving and maintaining a proper weight, as well as strengthening your core, can help with lower back pain. Both of these can be achieved through exercise and stretching.
Exercises for sciatica will work to help relieve painful symptoms, as well as strengthen surrounding muscle groups to take pressure off of the area of the back that is affected.
One good exercise to relieve sciatica pain is the hamstring stretch. You’ll want to find a firm, flat, comfortable place that you can lie down (preferably on carpet or yoga mat).
Fold up a small hand towel and place it under your head to cushion it. Bend your knees a bit and place your feet about hip-width apart.
Now bend one knee—gently!—and bring it towards your chest. Hold the knee with both hands. Bring the knee as close to your chest as possible, but don’t push it farther than is comfortable.
Hold this pose for twenty seconds, breathing deeply as you do so. Now do this with the other leg. Repeat the process three times.
Yoga can also be extremely helpful for sciatic nerve pain—as well as for fibromyalgia, overall. Studies have shown that in those with chronic back pain, yoga can help reduce their pain by as much as 64%.
Because yoga encourages deep breathing and relaxation along with movement and stretching, it can be good for the anxiety and depression that often go hand-in-hand with fibromyalgia and its assorted symptoms (such as sciatica).
Ice, Heat and Medication
In addition to the stretching, poking and prodding at the chiropractor’s, acupuncturists and yoga studio, many of those with sciatica benefit from treating their back pain at home with ice, heat and medication.
Ice and/or heat should only be applied for short periods of time—just 15 minutes at a stretch—in order to reduce inflammation and ease pain.
Many people suffering with sciatica can benefit from over-the-counter medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
These help the pain, but they also help calm any inflammation that may be causing the pain. Those who are on medications for fibromyalgia should check with their doctors before starting any new medication—even if it’s over the counter.