Although we've come a long way from the days when no one thought it was a real disease, we still have a long way to go in terms of treatment. Fibromyalgia pain is an increasingly common form of chronic pain that can leave those with the disease in a seemingly endless limbo of uncertainty and anguish. Current treatment options are limited, so many people are left struggling to function with the condition. But breakthroughs do happen and one recent discovery has led to relief for many. A drug-free option, muscle stimulation therapy is receiving a lot of attention, and it seems, deservedly so.
Current fibromyalgia treatment options range all over. But from anti-depressants to opioids, they may cause potentially harmful side effects. And despite treatment, many sufferers still struggle to function.
But hope may have arrived in the form of muscle stimulation therapy that may help relieve muscle pain and fatigue without the numerous side effects that can come with current treatments. It works by triggering the nerves, forcing pain receptors to compete along the pathways to the brain, thereby reducing pain perception. Let's look a little closer.
Fibromyalgia occurs most frequently in people with rheumatic disorders like lupus, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some people who develop fibromyalgia may seem otherwise perfectly healthy, which can make symptoms unexpected and especially puzzling. It sometimes strikes males, teenagers and seniors, but the disorder affects middle-aged women more often than any other demographic.
Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of fibromyalgia pain, but some evidence suggests it results from an altered interpretation of nerve signals in the brain. Simply put, people who suffer from fibromyalgia may feel significantly more pain than the average person, even in the absence of external triggers. This can make managing the condition extremely difficult.
Current fibromyalgia treatments typically include one or more of the following approaches:
The results of these treatments are often mixed at best, and highly variable by patient, and the side effects may outweigh the potential benefits in many cases. Opioid treatment, for example, can be provably damaging, resulting in worsened chronic pain in the long run. This is because opioids can exacerbate the problems in the nerves believed to cause fibromyalgia by further reducing pain tolerance.
Muscle stimulation therapy, also called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), works by sending electrical signals through the muscle, dampening the pain response. Not only does it appear to reduce pain and improve movement, but TENS therapy may also improve fatigue levels. Side effects are minimal, with the most common being pain from the device and irritation from the electrode pads.
TENS therapy may work under the same principles used in the “gate control” theory of pain. According to the theory, pain receptors must compete with other nerve receptors in a given area. Stimulating sensations other than pain may, therefore, reduce a person’s pain perception. Acupuncture, which triggers nerves using fine needles, is another example of a pain-reduction approach that relies on gate control theory.
Fibromyalgia pain is difficult to overcome, but muscle stimulation therapy could help to make it more manageable in some cases. Moreover, TENS units are readily available and don't require a prescription for basic units. If you have fibromyalgia and have been struggling to control the pain, it may be worth it to talk to a doctor about TENS therapy and whether it might work for you.