“Everything in my body hurts.” This is the phrase most often used by fibromyalgia sufferers to describe their condition, characterized by widespread pain, aching muscles, inability to sleep, and severe fatigue. Patients – mostly women – plagued by fibromyalgia are rarely relieved by Western medicine, but new studies show that chiropractic care can be an effective treatment strategy with long-lasting results.
Upper cervical care, a gentle, non-invasive technique that assesses and corrects the relationship between the upper cervical spine and its influence on the central nervous system, has shown great promise in two recent studies.
The first one was conducted in Egypt and involved 120 people ages 40-65 with severe pain and limited movement in their cervical spine, specifically in the C1-C2 area. The individuals who received upper cervical chiropractic adjustments in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise showed more improvement regarding physical function and level of pain compared to the control group who had no chiropractic intervention. At one year post-study, they reported a reduction in fibromyalgia’s impact on their lives, measured in the number of work days missed due to fibromyalgia symptoms and a reduction in sleep disturbance, fatigue, depression, and anxiety levels.
The second study, cited by Fox News, was conducted in Italy and found that upper cervical chiropractic adjustments helped improve function in multiple areas in patients with chronic venous cerebral-spine insufficiency and multiple sclerosis after just 6 weeks. Although there is a strong possibility that upper cervical manual adjustments can help patients with serious conditions such as MS, more studies are needed to prove the efficacy of this technique beyond the relief of biomechanical and neuromusculoskeletal symptoms.
How Upper Cervical Manual Therapy Works for Fibromyalgia Patients
At the moment, no one knows what causes fibromyalgia. One prevalent theory believes that fibromyalgia enhances painful sensations through abnormal processing of pain signals in the brain. Simply put, it’s a condition in which the nervous system is operating in a state of chaos, and this chaos can often be traced back to a simple misalignment in the upper part of the spine.
Unlike conventional medicine that focuses primarily on the relief of symptoms, chiropractic care aims to solve the interference that alters the brain-body connection and inevitably results in pain and discomfort. Chiropractors specializing in upper cervical adjustments address both neurological function and structural integrity, correcting not only the misalignment in the upper neck, but also the resulting compensatory misalignments along the spine that cause back, shoulder, and hip pain.
The National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) explains the physiologic mechanisms employed by upper cervical care:
“The first neck vertebra, also known as the Atlas or C–1, is a small donut–like ring located at the top of the spine in close proximity to the central nervous system that is responsible for controlling a number of vital body functions. One of these functions is the muscle balance of the spinal column.
When the Atlas is subjected to stress or injury, it can become partly misaligned in relation to the skull and the other vertebrae in the neck. We call this the Atlas Subluxation Complex Syndrome or the ASC Syndrome. Even a slight structural misalignment of the upper neck will result in a muscular reflex shifting the body balance from normal, adding stress to the spinal column.”
Through manipulation of the upper cervical area, chiropractors are able to correct body imbalances in order to relieve stress on the spine and nervous system and help patients maintain the correction for extended periods of time. Moreover, regular chiropractic visits can enhance patients’ understanding of spinal care that aids in maintaining the correction and preventing future problems.
To prevent pain and discomfort from spreading throughout your body, it’s essential to visit your local chiropractic clinic as soon as the first warning signs appear. These can include:
- Severe fatigue and sleep disturbances: extreme tiredness and difficulty sleeping or waking up rested are the most characteristic symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Digestive distress: about 70 percent of patients with fibromyalgia also suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or irritable bladder.
- Profuse sweating: excessive perspiration in some fibromyalgia sufferers can be traced to a dysfunction in the brain’s hypothalamus gland, which controls several of the body’s automatic functions.
- Muscle sensitivity: in fibromyalgia sufferers, all senses are painfully heightened, to the extent that even a handshake or a gentle touch on the back can cause acute pain.
- Cognitive and memory impairment: difficulties concentrating, remembering things, and communicating are not uncommon in fibromyalgia and are often referred to as the “fibro fog.”
Fibromyalgia is a complicated disorder whose symptoms can interfere with every corner of your life, but that doesn’t mean you are sentenced to a life in pain. Although there are still many missing links about this mysterious disease, a complete chiropractic treatment regimen provided by your local chiropractor can eliminate many of the risk factors that disrupt the body’s natural alignment, reducing pressure on the nervous system and decreasing widespread pain.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.