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Fibromyalgia – Just like a Handbag!

By Chris Newton

Imagine for a minute a handbag (Bear with me!). It’s a new, large, over the shoulder type and has several compartments. One big hold all compartment and some smaller ones inside and out. 

You take that bag and fill it with all your essentials and decide how to neatly compartmentalise each thing you place inside. You’ve put everything you need in there and refrain from over filling it to keep the weight down. 

Over the course of a few months you use the objects in the handbag, removing and replacing them. Sometimes you even find you’ve added several new items to your inventory. Over time, with all this use, you begin to struggle to find what you’re looking for in there. It’s all in there but you’ve been careless in keeping order, and all that new stuff you’ve collected, from receipts to neck scarfs, is getting in the way too.

Eventually it all gets too much. You’re getting stressed finding your house keys every day you arrive home, and you think to yourself “something has to be done about this bag!”. So you have a few options:

Option 1: Buy a new bag. This one obviously isn’t big enough!

Option 2: Shove all non-essentials to the bottom of your bag so the essentials are at the top and easier to reach. That way you can keep on going and ignore the problem. 

Option 3: Clean out and reorganise your contents. The size of the bag is fine, you just have too much stuff cluttering it up.  

This is Fibromyalgia in a nutshell

At The Fibro Project we view Fibromyalgia in this way because we believe the problem comes from a disorganised nervous system.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say “I put all my stress in my neck and shoulders”. They have recognised that the mind deals with stress by placing it in the muscles of our body. In fact, it actually places stress in all the different systems from muscles to organs. And by ‘stress’ I mean – anything it doesn’t like from emotional stress to food or activity stress. If the nervous system sees it as a threat, it will place a compensation in the body, like tension in our neck and shoulders. 

In essence, the nervous system uses your body like a large, over the shoulder handbag!

Initially it keeps things organised, and for those who don’t suffer chronic pain it continues to keep things reasonably well organised. But for you it just keeps filling the bag to overflowing (Fibro Fog) and doing a basic tidy up only when things have reached breaking point. 

How are you coping?

Let’s revisit options 1 to 3 from earlier and look at how we can draw parallels. 

Option 1: Buy a new bag. This one obviously isn’t big enough!

Sorry but you’ve only got one bag in this lifetime. Option 1 is not going to be possible until total body transplants are available on the NHS.

Option 2: Shove all non-essentials to the bottom of your handbag so the essentials are at the top and easy to reach. That way you can keep on going and ignore the problem.

This is the standard therapeutic approach – Bury (or more accurately, suppress) the problem! 

Medicine looks at FMS as a set of separate issues. Muscular pain. Joint pain. Inflammation. Sleep disorder. IBS. Food intolerance. The list goes on and on. So we seek an answer for each thing individually. Massage, physiotherapy or other body work for the body pain. Meditation for stress. Medication for everything else. Some people are on 12 or more medications every day. Each for a different symptom and each with a list of side affects that state all the symptoms the other pills ‘cure’.

Let’s first look at body work. As a body worker myself, for over a decade I’ve diligently looked at ways to ‘fix’ chronic pain. But chronic pain does not come from damaged tissue. It comes from nerves or is created by the subconscious mind. So body work will only ever reduce symptoms temporarily, and on the wrong day will likely inflame them. The lack of effectiveness of even the best body work at helping FMS is proof enough that Fibromyalgia isn’t what the name suggests – fibrotic muscular pain.

Next let’s look at medication. Meds change the chemistry of your body. Most work through a process of blocking a chemical that is too high, or blocking a chemical that forms a chemical that is too high. Others artificially dose you a chemical. Unlike nutritional supplements that feed your system the base nutrients it needs to make everything, medication falsifies the chemical balance your nervous system has chosen for you at that time. Take anti-inflammatories for example. They block a substance we make from fats called prostaglandin because one type is involved in inflammation. They actually block all types of prostaglandin because, if you block only the inflammatory one, you cause cancer in mice. But blocking all of them is safe. Problem is, prostaglandins are the base chemicals for making hormones and neurotransmitters. They are the reason Omega 3, 6 & 9 are advised in your diet. So if you’ve been taking anti-inflammatories to suppress inflammation long term, and have a low hormone count, maybe the two are linked.

All-in-all it is quite obvious, that if you suppress a problem, you are only pushing it to the bottom of the handbag, so you can access the resources you need to function. But it won’t take long for the problems to resurface and the resources to sink back down again, just like your house keys.

Option 3: Clean out and reorganise your contents. The size of the bag is fine, you just have too much stuff cluttering it up.  

At the beginning we spoke about that sense of putting stress in your neck and shoulder muscles. The nervous system basically takes the things it receives and stuffs them in the handbag, called your body, with everything else. You then carry them around with you, continually adding. 

All healthy people do this too. It isn’t unique to FMS. But what healthy people seem to be able to do is keep this mess well organised so they can easily to access their resources when they need them. Disorganisation of this system is often found to be involved in chronic pain sufferers that don’t have Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia, we believe, is simply a disorganised nervous system. When the system becomes so disorganised that you can’t access your resources, then you crash (Flare Up or Fog Out).  

The brain attempts to tidy up when you sleep and some nights it does better than others. So some days you have more resources than others. Therefore some days you don’t flare and others you flare at a drop of a pin. This is the reason many patients say they can’t find a specific trigger that flares them up.

So what can be done to tidy up? 

Knowing all this is useless unless we have a solution to the problem.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Jose Palomar has spent his career developing tools he calls P-DTR to assess and treat this disorganisation of the nervous system. He discovered that the brain, in response to a perceived threat, makes compensations to cope that remain in the system. It does so by creating a pair of neural dysfunctions – one balancing the other. 

When we learnt this technique, directly from Dr Palomar himself, we realised immediately the implications for our FMS patients. It explains all the symptoms of fibromyalgia without adjusting any of the rules to make the symptoms fit. 

P-DTR has a clearly defined set of rules that we can test you against, that are backed up by mainstream neuroscience. This makes it possible to test every patient and see how they fit within these rules. Therefore, we can begin to make sense of the disorganisation of your handbag (nervous system), and then help to reorganise you. 

It is a bit like unpicking a large knot. You need to assess the overall state of the knot first, then gently pull through the correct piece of cord. Initially this is a tough job – it’s in a real mess! – but as the knot gets smaller it suddenly becomes easier and easier to unwind. 

Does treatment ‘cure’ Fibromyalgia?

We don’t believe so. We believe FMS is something your nervous system is prone to. But FMS symptoms are there because you are overloaded. Every system is full, so the slightest challenge to it results in overload and flare up. So, if we can reorganise your nervous system to create more space, we can dramatically reduce the likelihood of a flare up. It’s then up to you to take good care of yourself. 

Remember, pain or any of the other symptoms are not unique to Fibromyalgia. Many people in the modern world suffer pain, IBS, sleep deprivation etc daily. But for them it doesn’t over flow into the many other systems that it does for you. Overloading a neck pain sufferer with exercise rarely triggers a bout of brain fog, IBS and acute fatigue. So, with good nutrition, exercise and a lowered stress lifestyle it is possible to keep from flare ups in multiple systems for you too, once you have a tidy nervous system to work with.

 

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