Experiencing pain is normal. Living in pain is not. Because living in pain is not normal, it's common for fibromyalgia fighters to look for answers to their pain. However, it's easy to become overwhelmed and hopeless when reading about symptoms, treatments, and diagnosis.
Let's get back to basics by talking about the why behind your pain...
Why You Need to Learn About Pain When You Have Chronic Pain
If you don't find neuroscience or pathophysiology exhilarating, we get it. But what if we told you that learning about the why behind your pain allowed you to better manage your fibromyalgia symptoms?
There is evidence that when people with chronic musculoskeletal disorders (including fibromyalgia) engage in pain neuroscience education, they have reduced pain on pain rating scales, improved function, reduced fear and catastrophization, increased movement, and fewer provider visits.
Are you convinced to spend a little bit of time learning about pain?
The Basics of Fibromyalgia Pain Science and Central Sensitization
Maybe you've been told that your pain is "all in your head." This is not true. Your pain is real and your symptoms are real too. It is true that pain comes from and is processed within the central nervous system, which includes the brain.
Pain science, including understanding the cause and continuation of fibromyalgia, has exploded in the last 20 years. Fibromyalgia is classified as abnormal pain processing within the central nervous system. In layman's terms, central sensitization is when the nervous system is on high alert even when there is no danger present. Because the system is on high alert, it doesn't take much for your pain alarm to go off (ex: getting a poor night of sleep, overexertion, etc.). If your house were on fire, you'd want your smoke detectors to go off. However, you don't want your smoke detector going off if you're just toasting a piece of bread.
So, why is your system so sensitive? Three mechanisms explain central sensitization:
Previous damage or inflammation of peripheral tissue
Psychological and behavioral factors
When it comes to fibromyalgia, psychological and behavioral factors (examples: anxiety, fear of movement, and increased focus on pain) best explain the ongoing nervous system sensitization.
Coming from a healthcare provider perspective, treating chronic pain isn't discussed nearly enough within educational programs. Most of my pain-related knowledge is from my own research and having clinical fieldwork within a pain center.
Alright, fibro fighter — block out 30 minutes of your day to invest in yourself by watching these videos.
Now Playing: 30 Minutes to Reduced Pain
Louw, A., Zimney, K., Puentedura, E. J., & Diener, I. (2016). The efficacy of pain neuroscience education on musculoskeletal pain: A systematic review of the literature. Physiotherapy theory and practice,32(5), 332–355.
Louw, A., Puentedura, E. J., Zimney, K., & Schmidt, S. (2016). Know pain, know gain? A perspective on pain neuroscience education in physical therapy. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy,46(3), 131–134. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2016.0602
Malfliet, A., Van Oosterwijck, J., Meeus, M., Cagnie, B., Danneels, L., Dolphens, M., Buyl, R., & Nijs, J. (2017). Kinesiophobia and maladaptive coping strategies prevent improvements in pain catastrophizing following pain neuroscience education in fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome: An explorative study. Physiotherapy theory and practice,33(8), 653–660. https://doi.org/10.1080/09593985.2017.1331481
van Ittersum, M. W., van Wilgen, C. P., van der Schans, C. P., Lambrecht, L., Groothoff, J. W., & Nijs, J. (2014). Written pain neuroscience education in fibromyalgia: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. Pain practice: the official journal of World Institute of Pain,14(8), 689–700. https://doi.org/10.1111/papr.12137
Watson, J. A., Ryan, C. G., Cooper, L., Ellington, D., Whittle, R., Lavender, M., Dixon, J., Atkinson, G., Cooper, K., & Martin, D. J. (2019). Pain neuroscience education for adults with chronic musculoskeletal pain: a mixed-methods systematic review and meta-analysis.The journal of pain: official journal of the American Pain Society,20(10), 1140.e1–1140.e22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2019.02.011
Fibromyalgia is not a "one size fits all" diagnosis. What works for some doesn't work for others. The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Should you have any health-related questions, please consult your physician or other health care provider promptly.
Hannah is an occupational therapist, fellow fibromyalgia
warrior, and co-founder of Fight Against Fibro. We're on a
mission for a life with less stress and more energy.