People who suffer with fibromyalgia can all agree that they have never been told that any one thing caused the onset of their symptoms, and medical professionals will all agree that there does not seem to be one specific cause of fibromyalgia. However, more recently doctors and researchers have been looking into trauma as being a major factor related to the onset of fibromyalgia in some people. Whether it’s physical trauma, PTSD, emotional trauma or childhood trauma, there seems to be a link with the onset of fibromyalgia. One thing is clear however, for those who suffer from fibromyalgia, the areas in the brain that are responsible for reaction to pain is very different than for those who do not have fibromyalgia.
In those patients who suffer from fibromyalgia there appears to be a decrease in the opioid receptors in the brain that can affect the emotional aspect of pain. Fibromyalgia essentially may be a change in the central nervous system that causes a heightened response to pain, or essentially, pain reception or response in the brain gets thrown out of balance which may be attributed now to trauma or injury.
There are several types of trauma or traumatic events that may contribute to the onset of fibromyalgia such as:
Major injuries– mainly the types of injuries referred to are neck and/or upper back/body injury that may be sustained from a motor vehicle accident. In fact, people who have had motor vehicle accidents and sustained whiplash type injuries have been found to be 10-13% more likely to develop fibromyalgia following their injuries. This may occur anywhere from weeks to months following the trauma.
Infections– People who are predisposed genetically to fibromyalgia may develop symptoms of fibromyalgia following infections such as hepatitis, HIV infections, certain strains of the flu or other respiratory infections. People who have fibromyalgia tend to experience a flare up during infections as well.
Emotional Trauma-PTSD or even moderate stressors can trigger fibromyalgia symptoms. This can occur due to the drop of serotonin in the brain and substance P increasing in the brain. This chemical response or change has been seen in patients who have fibromyalgia. Again, people who are genetically predisposed to fibromyalgia are more likely to see a link of emotional trauma with the development of fibromyalgia.
Childhood Trauma-Traumas such as childhood abuse, severe illness during childhood, isolating type events, living in a home with an alcoholic parent/parents, or separation from parents that extends longer than 6 months, have all been linked to possible development of fibromyalgia as well later in life.
When physical trauma occurs to a person in the form of major injury or muscular type injuries, such as whiplash, this can affect nerves and the small muscles in your body. When these tiny muscles get injured severely enough or even get torn, they can cause the formation of what we know as trigger points in the soft tissues of the body. These trigger points are what doctors evaluate in the diagnoses phase of fibromyalgia and due to the injuries of those muscles, the trigger points become very painful and sensitive when touched. Researchers have found that people who develop fibromyalgia after physical injury or trauma are more likely to be the ones who have more physically debilitating type symptoms.
So how does childhood trauma or emotion trauma trigger fibromyalgia when there is no current “injury mechanism” that may instigate symptoms? Earlier I mentioned the change in serotonin and substance P levels in the brain that are the chemicals that signal pain and heightens pain response, and, that fibromyalgia is a change in the way the brain responds to pain? Well, childhood traumas, abuse, severe illness or other psychologically stressful events can be so emotionally painful and mentally unsettling that this can start to cause changes in the central nervous system which is the system involved in pain responses. This can also trigger emotional pain responses that can manifest in physical pain experiences that do not have tissue injury pathology. So essentially when a person is told “it’s all in your head,” it’s not completely incorrect. However this shows that there is truly a physical cause due to emotional circumstances.
Other Types of Trauma
Other types of trauma or stressful type events that may also be linked to the onset of fibromyalgia symptoms that may not include neck/head injury or trauma may include; major surgery, childbirth, deployment to war, or any other highly stressful event that may occur in your life. Genetic disposition and psychological stress can also cause onset of symptoms.
So with this information it seems there should be some possibility of treatment to help alleviate pain and if your fibromyalgia was brought on by physical injury, it seems reasonable that treating the original injury should bring some relief. For some patients this is true and treatments ranging from chiropractic care to acupuncture, spinal traction, or any other treatment to help heal the original injury can result in a significant decrease in pain and symptoms. It is best to make sure your doctor is aware of any injury or physical trauma that occurred prior to your fibromyalgia diagnosis so that you can work with them and look into treatments you can try to possibly help treat the original injury.
If your fibromyalgia was triggered by a psychological or emotional trauma, along with any treatments you may be trying to help relieve the physical pain, seeing a mental health professional could prove to be very beneficial as well. Trying to heal some of the emotional pain can help ease some of the physical pain as well since there is a strong link from mental health to physical health. And as we all know in dealing with this condition, there is no one “cure all” or magical pill or treatment that will get rid of fibromyalgia, but trying to treat multiple symptoms either medically or emotionally can hopefully lead to a less painful life.