What Is Fibromyalgia?
If pain in one part of the body is not bad enough, how does the idea of feeling a nagging ache coupled with a burning sensation and spirit pounding fatigue sound to you? “Distressing”, you say? Well folks; that is exactly what fibromyalgia is!
The ailment is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed despite the fact that it is the second most common musculoskeletal problem in the world. Nearly 10 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia. It is a condition that is chronic and has a complex pathophysiology.
In fact, doctors are not entirely sure what causes fibromyalgia patients to feel like they have been beaten to a pulp, without any real injury or damage involved.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Fibromyalgia
The condition is often associated with tender points, which are also called trigger points. Trigger points are the places in the body where even a slight pressure causes pain.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, a person is diagnosed with fibromyalgia if he or she is having pain in at least 11 of the 18 known trigger points. Some of the common trigger points include elbows, knees, hips, upper chest, shoulder tapas, back of the head.
Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of people suffering from fibromyalgia.
- The pain can be equated to the discomfort associated with other chronic joint or bone and muscle related conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatism. However, instead of localized discomfort, the soreness associated with fibromyalgia is widespread.
- In terms of intensity, the discomfort can be slight, moderate or severe enough to be debilitating. But the pain usually waxes and wanes over days.
- Patients often describe the pain as a deep muscular ache and stabbing/pounding/throbbing discomfort.
- Fibromyalgia patients almost always suffer from morning spasticity or joint and muscle stiffness that makes it hard to even get out of bed.
- Also, the pain intensifies in response to physical movement, which keeps patients away from workouts and leads to fitness issues.
- Unfortunately, the lack of exercise aggravates the condition and causes the symptoms and pain to intensify.
- Because the pain is chronic and widespread, fibromyalgia also causes sleep disturbances and leads to the ill-effects of sleep deprivation.
- Since the discomfort does not respond to most forms of modern medical treatment, the condition understandably causes stress, anxiety and depression.
- Fatigue is another hallmark of fibromyalgia and it is thought to result from both the physical pain and its psychological ramifications.
- The deep-seated sense of malaise and overwhelming fatigue associated with fibromyalgia are more than just at the mental level. In fact, they take on a physical form with most patients stating that they feel as if they are physically restrained or weighed down by concrete blocks. This feeling turns even simple tasks into mentally and physically taxing chores and is an uncontrollable energy-sapper.
In addition to these, fibromyalgia also leads to several non-related symptoms that don’t always involve pain, such as
- Brain fog
- Memory and cognitive issues
- Trouble focusing and concentrating
- Dryness of the mucus membranes
- Frequent urination
- Diarrhea and other digestive problems
- Sensitivity to heat, cold, light, certain fragrances/smells and sound
Causes And Risk Factors Of Fibromyalgia
The precise cause of fibromyalgia continues to baffle the medical community. However, the most widely accepted explanation is that the condition results from a central nervous system anomaly that leads to patients experiencing more pain than they should or normally would.
Although there is no inflammation involved in the ailment, it is believed that since the 18 (9 pairs) tender points are at the junction of muscle tendons, micro-injuries may be involved in the fibromyalgia equation.
Normally, these micro-tears would not cause noticeable discomfort. However, since fibromyalgia patients suffer from hyperalgesia or heightened sensitivity to pain, even these micro-injuries cause significant discomfort.
Moreover, it is believed that people who suffer from the condition have a higher number of cells that play a role in the transmission of pain impulses and a lower number of cells that are meant to slow down the transport of such impulses through the spinal cord and to the brain. What causes this to happen continues to be a mystery. However, a few risk factors have been identified. For instance:
- Women have a greater risk of suffering from fibromyalgia than men.
- An existing chronic ailment that causes musculoskeletal or joint pain can also increase the risk of suffering from the condition.
- Psychological issues such as anxiety, stress and depression can be both the risk factors and the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Similarly, PTSD and physical or emotional abuse can also make you susceptible to condition.
- Although physical movement can cause fibromyalgia pain to worsen, the lack of it is also implicated in the onset of the condition.
- Those who have a family history of the condition stand a higher chance of suffering from it.
- Some infections (particularly certain skin infections) tend to trigger the condition.
How To Prevent Fibromyalgia?
Because the cause of the condition remains poorly understood, it is not possible to prevent fibromyalgia.
However, you can lower your risk of suffering from it if there is a genetic angle involved. Also, you can control the frequency and intensity of flare ups. And all you have to do achieve this is lead a healthy and active lifestyle.
When To See Your Doctor?
Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia can often be confused with those of auto-immune and musculoskeletal ailments, it is best to seek advice from your doctor if you experience the symptoms listed above for more than 3-4 weeks.
If you have already been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and if there is worsening of the symptoms or if the pain is interfering with your sleep and daily activities, it would be best to talk to your doctor about it. Remember, a proper diagnosis is quintessential for effective and sustainable treatment.
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Why Use Essential Oils For Fibromyalgia?
Because fibromyalgia is a complex condition, there cannot possibly be one “cure-all” pill for it. The symptoms of the ailment are numerous and diverse and generally cause so much trouble that for most doctors it can be hard to get a grip on the disorder while working within the confines of modern medicine.
To add to the problem, the condition is chronic and there is simply no telling when the pain can spike to the point of getting unbearable. Above all, any MD would find it extremely harrowing to deal with an ailment that disturbs not just the body but also the mind.
To deal with all the symptoms of fibromyalgia, you would need a combination of sedatives, stimulants, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants and pain killers. But that cocktail is how you fast track your way into a straightjacket.
Let’s not forget that you would need all of the above medicines to be free of side effects because you’d have to use them for years or even for the rest of your life. But, we all know that is not how modern medical science works.
Enter essential oils! These miracle workers of Mother Nature handle the pain, speed up healing of the micro injuries and tone down the antinociceptive behavior of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Additionally, they have antioxidant and calming effect on both the mind and the body.
While some of these oils are excellent sleep aids, others provide a boost in cognition and focus and an unmistakable surge of energy when it is needed the most.
They can be used in a multitude of ways and offer a myriad of health benefits. And they do all of this, without causing side effects. Now, that is what can be called a complete and perfect treatment modality.
Best Essential Oils For Fibromyalgia
One of the alternative therapies I have found to be most effective against fibromyalgia is aromatherapy. Modern medicine only suppress the disease leaving you vulnerable to relapse.
With the use of essential oils, you can easily expect sustainable results. With that said, here are some of the best essential oils recommended for fibromyalgia.
15 Best Essential Oils For Fibromyalgia
Since it’s one of the richest sources of limonene, lemon essential oil has an incredible ability to speed up the entry of phytocompounds into the dermal layers, and from there into the blood stream. This bioactive is also an extraordinary analgesic agent. For starters, it works on the peripheral nervous system or the network of tiny nerves that carry the pain impulse from various parts of the body to the spine.
Its effect, although remarkable, does not come at the cost of alertness. In fact, limonene reduces pain without stimulating the opioid receptors and without causing drowsiness. In other words, it kills the pain without making you fall asleep and without the risk of addiction that comes with strong painkillers. As a bonus, the distinctive aroma has an immediate energizing effect, which helps to chase away mental blues and fatigue.
This citrus oil not only contains limonene, which facilitates the transportation of the active compounds deep into the dermal cells, but also has boat loads of a compound called p-cymene. This phytochemical is one of the most powerful antinociceptive agents in nature.
In simple words, it acts directly on the ability of the central nervous system to receive and interpret pain signals. Moreover, the tangy aroma of the oil has an uplifting effect, which helps to tackle the depression and lethargy caused by fibromyalgia.
This may seem like an odd choice, but this oil has found its way into this list owing to its high citral content. This bioactive boasts of both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
In fact, lemongrass oil works on both phases of pain. So, it reduces the discomfort felt when the pain receptors get stimulated and it lowers the secondary pain that is brought on by inflammation and swelling.
This one’s a no brainer given the intense cooling sensation it creates, which has a counterirritant effect.
Menthol, which is the principle constituent of peppermint essential oil, is a natural anti-inflammatory agent that helps to control pain by exhausting the chemicals that transmit the sensation of pain via the nervous system to the brain. Moreover, it is a circulatory stimulant that helps to boost blood flow and aids in the quick removal of toxins and accumulated fluids.
The major components of ginger essential oil; gingerol, zingiberene and shogaol all have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. In fact, these phytochemicals are as potent as many nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in their ability to inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body.
Fibromyalgia involves wide spread and chronic inflammation, and considering the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger oil, it is one of the most effective natural substances to combat the condition.
6. Black Pepper
A heating oil with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties to boot, black pepper extract is able to control both acute and chronic inflammation by substantially lowering the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Moreover, the warming effect of the oil helps to bring about faster healing of damaged tissue and aids in increasing circulation to the treated area. In fact, two of the major components of this oil; caryophyllene and beta pinene are known to impact neuropathic (pain caused by stimulus whether internal or external) as well as inflammatory pain.
In terms of its ability to control pain, this extract is almost as potent as lignocaine, which is the local anesthetic used before small surgeries and dental procedures. However, this oil does more than just control pain. It is also tremendously effective against chronic inflammation.
The active compounds in nutmeg essential oil not only control the release of pro-inflammatory mediators but also act on a compound known as Substance P, which is both a neuromodulator and neurotransmitter used in the process of pain perception. The extract works on muscle pain as well as headaches, and a very tiny amount is usually enough to get significant pain relieving effects.
You may have noticed that the oils I have discussed so far in this list either impact the peripheral nervous system or the central nervous system. But, copaiba essential oil has a combined effect that has a bearing on how pain is perceived and transmitted at the peripheral and the central level.
In fact, this cumulative effect of the oil makes it the perfect choice for all algesic disorders. Fibromyalgia is an algesic condition in which the body develops heightened sensitivity to pain as chronic inflammation causes permanent damage to the peripheral and central nervous systems.
Copaiba oil being an anti-inflammatory controls inflammation and lowers peripheral and central nervous system hyper sensitivity to pain, it is one of the best natural substances for treating the condition. Moreover, the extract also exhibits antioxidant and antinociceptive properties that further increase its scope as a likely treatment for the disorder.
9. Rose Geranium
At least at this time, there is no man-made substance that alleviates inflammation without side effects. But rose geranium essential oil does just that, and there is a lot more in its constellation of benefits.
The aroma of the oil is soothing to the senses and is known to alleviate stress and depression and it exerts hypotensive effects. Because inflammation plays the dual role of cause and effect in case of fibromyalgia, this oil has immense potential as a safe and effective treatment for the condition.
This is another oil that simultaneously deals with the woes of both the mind and the body. Not only is lavender oil a potent anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive agent but also it is an anxiolytic substance that helps to keep stress and anxiety in check.
Furthermore, the oil also displays significant antioxidant effects. In fact, its ability to curb swelling (a hall mark of inflammation) as well as spontaneous pain, which comes from internal or external pain receptor stimulation, was found to be at par with that of dexamethasone, a popular painkiller.
The pain caused by fibromyalgia not only impacts the body but also proves to be disastrous for the brain. So patients often complain of fibro fog.
Now, here is one anti-inflammatory and peripheral antinociceptive essential oil that not only control peripheral pain transmission but also improves cognitive performance. Plus, its ability to improve circulation helps to control swelling and the accumulation of fluids.
12. Basil (sweet and holy)
A powerful modulator of the immune system, this is one of those rare extracts that hits at the heart of the pain and inflammation by influencing the synthesis of pain mediators.
Its ability to interact with opioid receptors gives it the same analgesic and antinociceptive effects as prescription pain killers. But, basil essential oil gets all of this done without any adverse effects or the risk of addiction.
I’ve already discussed a bioactive called p-cymene with you; yes the same one from orange oil. Now, thyme oil happens to contain twice the amount of this active substance and if that’s not enough, it also contains a significant amount of a monoterpene known as thymol, which is a derivative of cymene.
Think of the combination of thymol and cymene as a double whammy against pain and inflammation. The best part is that thymol is not just an antinociceptive substance but also an inhibitor of nerve conduction. Simply put, this bioactive cordons off the pain and stops it from travelling higher up the nervous system and reaching the brain.
This is another extract that impacts the ability of the central nervous system to receive and interpret pain impulses. The 1,8 cineole in this oil helps to boost circulation and removes accumulated toxins and fluids from an inflamed area.
So, if a fibromyalgia flare-up is causing swelling and inflammation, and you need to deal with these on the double, this extract will get the job done. Plus, the soothing warmth feels incredibly good, which explains the inclusion of this oil in almost every other pain relief balm and liniment.
Another powerful antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory extract, juniper essential oil not just helps to lower the production of pro-inflammatory substances in the body but also prevents faulty tissue remodeling, which is considered to be one of the causes of fibromyalgia.
Additionally, it also impacts several signaling pathways that are linked to inflammation and immune responses.
Best Essential Oil Blends For Fibromyalgia
This is a roll on blend for those notorious fibromyalgia trigger points that cause agonizing pain, and there is nothing you can do about them. The combination of EOs is meant to offer rapid relief. So, get ready to get cooking. This is what you are going to need:
- 10 ml light carrier oil
- 10 drops peppermint
- 5 drops copaiba
- 5 drops ginger
- 4 drops lavender
- 2 drops nutmeg
Pour the oils in a dark glass bottle with the capacity to hold 15 ml and a roller ball head. Top it with 10 ml carrier oil. Mustard seed oil (carrier) and ashwagandha macerated oils works exceptionally well, but you can use any light base if you cannot get your hands non these. Put the rollerball head back on the bottle once the oils have been poured in. Roll the bottle between your palms to mix the oils.
Use as you would any liniment. You will notice that I have gone way over the 2-3% recommend EO dilution rate. But that’s because this is a spot treatment and one that should only be used when you have particularly sore trigger points. You don’t have to massage the blend in, just apply and leave it be and in about 2-3 minutes you will start feeling the combination of healing warmth and soothing cold.
2. The massage oil that gives relief from pain and stress!
When fibromyalgia is getting to the whole of you, this massage blend will not just get rid of the pain but will also shoo out the fatigue and stress that it causes. This is what you will need:
- 30 ml unscented lotion/sesame seed oil
- 5 drops each rosemary, thyme and holy basil
- 8 drops rose geranium
- 6 drops orange
- 3 drops eucalyptus
Mix the oils and store in an amber glass bottle, away from heat, moisture and sunlight. Use as you would any massage oil. The thing to remember here is that this blend works as both prevention and cure. So, even if it seems like your fibromyalgia is on the wane, I would still recommend that you use this oil every other day. This way you get to kick the condition out while it’s still down.
3. Compress the pain and the inflammation away
This blend is for when you need mental soothing as much as you do relief from physical pain. Whether to go with hot water or a bag of frozen peas will depend on what you intend to achieve, but more on that later. For starters, let me tell you what you are going to need:
- 30 ml carrier oil
- 5 drops lavender
- 6 drops peppermint (for swelling) or 3 drops black pepper (for pain without inflammation)
- 3 drops each lemon and marjoram
Mix the oils and store the blend in a glass bottle. Massage the oils lightly on the swollen or tender areas and then use a cold or hot compress on it for 15 minutes. For the hot compress, use hot water with sea salt in it. If that’s too messy, a regular heating pad or hot water bag will also do. Again for the cold compress, use ice cubes of strong brewed tea (preferably green tea) in salt water. But if that’s a “no can do”, then go with a bag of frozen peas.
4. The diffuser blend
I am sure you are wondering why you need a diffuser to deal with a problem that is more about the body than the mind. Well, any ailment that causes chronic pain and inflammation is bound to impact the noggin. Plus, some of those EOs can exert their anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects even when inhaled. So, a diffuser blend should definitely be a part of your fibromyalgia treatment and control plan. This is what you are going to need:
For a day blend use: 20 drops rosemary, 7 drops lemon, 10 drops eucalyptus, 5 drops ginger, 5 drops peppermint. Mix and store the oils in a dark glass bottle. Use 3-4 drops in an ultrasonic diffuser or a nebulizer or make a personal inhaler with it.
For the night time blend use: 10 drops each lavender and sandalwood EOs, 5 drops juniper berry, 2 drops camphor and 4 drops vetiver. Diffuse 3-4 drops of the blend in your bedroom for 15 minutes before bedtime or you can use it a spray by adding 4-5 drops to 20 ml water and spritzing it on and around the bed and in the room.
5. When the pounding headache refuses to go away
Don’t just stop at the forehead with this one if sleep is eluding you and you can’t seem to keep a check on your anxiety and stress. A scalp massage will do you a world of good, and the blend that will give your fingers the help they need to give your noggin the TLC it needs can be made with:
- 30 ml black seed oil
- 5 drops each of basil, thyme and peppermint
- 8 drops lavender
Preparation and storage as above. Apply on the temples and on the forehead and then work your scalp with the blend. Also, cover the back of the neck. If you can, go the extra mile and wrap a hot towel around that noggin. You can shampoo as usual, but give the oils at least 1-2 hours to work on your scalp.
6. The bath that will relax the mind and ease the body pain
This soothing, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory blend not only alleviates pain but also beckons sleep. So, try this one before you call it a day. You will need:
- 1 cup sea salt/ Himalayan pink salt
- ½ cup Epsom salt
- 1 tbsp milk (dairy or plant)
- 20 drops lavender
- 10 drops juniper
- 7 drops each copaiba and rose geranium
- 5 drops orange
Mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle. You will only need 6-8 drops of the blend at one time. Run yourself a warm bath and add the salts to the water. When you have enough water in the tub, mix the blend with the milk and pour the mixture into the bath water. Agitate the water till the oils have dispersed and then soak your weary self in it for a good 20 minutes.
7. For lower back pain that threatens to bulldoze your day!
- 30 ml light carrier oil
- 5 drops each ginger and orange
- 7 drops peppermint
- 2 drops nutmeg
- 5 drops lemongrass
- 8 drops German chamomile
Mix the oils and store as explained above. Use as you would a muscle rub/balm. Apply with a light hand on the lower back and then if you have a few minutes, use a foam roller under the sore area to stretch the spine and the nerves.
7 Natural Remedies For Fibromyalgia
1. The dietary path to get rid of fibromyalgia
Although inflammation cannot be blamed for fibromyalgia, it never hurts to keep it in check, given its potential for creating trouble. In keeping with this goal, Scandinavian researchers in a 2016 study have recommended certain dietary changes to control the symptoms of fibromyalgia. They call it the low FODMAP diet.
It involves eating healthy and real foods like colorful, fresh and raw veggies such as carrots, lettuce, bell peppers, potatoes, squash; fruits such as kiwis, pineapple, grapes, berries, melon and citrus fruits; non-dairy milk, eggs, free range chicken and turkey, tempeh and wild-caught fish; gluten free grains; nuts and seeds and healthy fats like avocado, olive, walnut, grape seed and coconut oils.
The foods to avoid include refined sugar and carbs (no surprise there) along with high fructose natural products such as honey and apples; dairy products, soybeans, legumes and lentils, artificial sweeteners, foods with artificial additives and excessive alcohol and caffeine.
Surprisingly, the diet also involves avoiding stone fruits such as avocados, cherries, apricots and others. If you ask me, I’d say instead of keeping these otherwise healthy food choices off the table completely, go for moderate or even limited consumption.
2. Using supplements to tame the wrath of fibromyalgia
Doctors often recommend vitamins B12 and D, magnesium, acetyl-L- carnitine (ALCAR), s adenosylmethionine (SAMe), 5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), alpha lipoic acid, fish oil, probiotics, Coenzyme Q10 and melatonin for fibromyalgia.
However, these are all symptom specific treatments and even though nutritional supplementation has its benefits, you should not overdo it. So, it would be best to talk to your doctor before taking these or any other supplements, particularly if you also suffer from other health issues.
3. Herbs can make a profound difference
Anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic herbs are also known to offer reprieve from the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Popular recommendations include curcumin or turmeric, St. John’s wort, Panax ginseng, chlorella, licorice root, ashwagandha, boswellia, ginger extract, guggula and triphala choorna among others.
4. Controlling stress is the key
Stress is both the cause and the symptom in case of fibromyalgia, so you can do yourself a world of good by keeping this factor in check. Yoga, mindfulness, meditation, reiki, tai chi and forest bathing are all known to help with the physical and mental symptoms of fibromyalgia.
So, set some time aside each day just for stress relief. Indulge in any activity that you enjoy, be it music, drawing, journaling or any other hobby.
Even if you don’t have a favorite “unwind” activity, get away from your desk for 30 minutes and walk out to grab your lunch. The change of scenery will be great for your mind and the walk will be fantastic for your body.
5. That is simply no reason to spend your life on the couch
Yes the pain and the fatigue of fibromyalgia are enough to push anybody down but the longer you stay down the more your symptoms will intensify.
Research has revealed that physical fitness has a direct bearing on both the risk level of suffering from fibromyalgia and the extent and intensity of the symptoms of the condition.
If you are already dealing with fibromyalgia, you need to exercise every day just to keep the soft tissue in top shape. Any form of physical activity will do; from walking to swimming and from dancing to yoga and even burst training and weight training.
The idea is to give yourself a whole body workout without pushing yourself too hard. Also, remember to start slow and always devote ample of time to the warm up session.
6. Alternative treatment modalities that help
Additionally, you may want to try massage and flotation therapy for the pain and the fatigue. Cognitive behavioral therapy and music therapy are also useful against anxiety and depression and for improving your coping mechanism.
7. Get your sleep hygiene in place
Those zzz’s don’t just walk into your bed when you are battling chronic and widespread pain, which is all the more reason to have good sleep hygiene. Sticking to a sleep timetable and keeping gadgets out of the bedroom sure does help.
Remember to avoid exercise, caffeine and screen time before bed. Limiting your daytime naps or avoiding them all together and eating 2-3 hours before bedtime make it easier to fall asleep.
The Bottom Line
I believe it will be a while before they fully understand fibromyalgia, and until that happens, modern medicine won’t be able to help you much with the awful and often life altering symptoms of the condition.
At this point, they can’t even diagnose the ailment accurately, let alone cure it. So, even if your doctor thinks that you are suffering from fibromyalgia, you will be sent home with a prescription for pain killers. And if you complain about your growing distress, next will be a prescription for anti-depressants. Unfortunately, it won’t stop there. As new symptoms raise their ugly head, more drugs will make their way into your medicine cabinet.
But here is the big question – do you really want to head down that path, when there is a safer and more effective or at least just as effective alternative? No, I am not asking you to stop your prescription meds cold turkey. All I am doing here is drawing your attention to their potential for side effects.
The way I see it; even if you were to take the risk, there are no benefits to justify it. At the end of the day, what little you get from those drugs will be temporary and those chemicals will only add to the imbalance in your body.
Essential oils have been used for hundreds of years to treat chronic, neurogenic pain. Make no mistake; these natural substances are stupendously effective and although they cannot cure fibromyalgia, you can count on them to keep the symptoms in control. Plus, you can expect to see a marked decrease in both the frequency and the intensity of the flare ups, which is more than what can be said for the offerings of modern medicine.
So, go ahead and use these oils to get rid of the physical pain and the mental anguish. Because nobody can put up with that s**t for too long, and you should not! And on that note, here is wishing you all a pain free days and peaceful nights for a lifetime!