According to the Mayo Clinic:
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals. Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event. Women are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression. While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also may help.
- Widespread pain. The pain associated with fibromyalgia often is described as a constant dull ache that has lasted for at least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
- People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, even though they report sleeping for long periods of time. Sleep is often disrupted by pain, and many patients with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.
- Cognitive difficulties. A symptom commonly referred to as "fibro fog" impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.
- Other problems. Many people who have fibromyalgia also may experience depression, headaches, and pain or cramping in the lower abdomen.
By Mayo Clinic’s own admission, medicine has no solution for fibromyalgia patients when they report that these case are to be managed and further report that the management includes pain medication, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs and psychotherapy. None have a cure, but all (except the psychotherapy have side effects.
In order to fully understand the effects of the spinal adjustment on the function and potential disease processes, we must first understand there are three primary pathways by which the chiropractic adjustment effects the human body. These are through biomechanics (local joint fixation and motion), pain management (organized and monitored through sensory input into the dorsal horn of the spinal cord to higher centers in the brain) and the autonomic systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic influences such as blood pressure changes through the endocrine system).
It has been well established, as reported by Studin, Owens, and Zolli (2015), that the chiropractic spinal adjustment has a direct and immediate effect on the central nervous system, outlined as part of the “pain management” pathway of the chiropractic spinal adjustment response. Research has shown that the chiropractic spinal adjustment affects the modulation of ascending and descending communication in the central nervous system within the dorsal horn. The adjustment then affects the thalamus and other areas of the brain and has a direct effect on gating pain in both directly treated and disparate regions as a result of the central nervous system connections. There are ancillary effects within primitive centers of the brain that control anxiety, depression and chronic responses to pain.
Kovanur Sampath, Mani, Cotter and Tumilty (2015) reported that the effects of spinal manipulation (chiropractic spinal adjustments) on various functions of the autonomic nervous system have been well identified in manual therapy literature. They reported “The common physiological mechanism proposed for these autonomic nervous system changes involves possible influence on segmental and extrasegmental reflexes with a prominent role given to the peripheral sympathetic nervous system” They concluded, “…cervical manipulation elicits a parasympathetic response and a thoracic/lumbar SM [spinal manipulation] elicits a sympathetic response” (Kovanur Sampath et al., 2015, p. 2).
In summary, it is evident that spinal manipulation has an effect on the autonomic nervous system though the direction of effect may vary. While we have spent years observing and studying the effects of the chiropractic spinal adjustment, there has never been an identified direct connection to the higher cortical areas until recently. The literature, according to Kovanur Sampath et al. (2015), has concluded that there is a direct relationship between the autonomic system and the hypothalamus - pituitary – adrenal gland in chronic pain syndromes including autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia, and other maladies. Currently, research is finally linking the neuronal mechanisms involved in pain modulation to the chiropractic adjustment.
The key is utilizing the chiropractic spinal adjustment in balancing the autonomic nervous system and in turn helping to rectify the hypothalamus – pituitary – adrenal gland imbalance as a viable treatment modality. In conclusion, it is the neuro-endocrine pathway research that has the ability to bring chiropractic full circle into proving objectively and scientifically what we have observed for 120 years. We can also never lose sight that these finding are just a beginning, requiring more research and more answers to help providers create more specific treatment plans an offer more options for patients suffering with fibromyalgia and other maladies.
As with all of our articles from here forward, I would like to leave you with a last and seemingly unrelated statement. I felt it was important to add this at the end since many of our critics negatively portray the safety of chiropractic care. This statement shall put that to rest leaving only personal biases left standing. Whedon, Mackenzie, Phillips, and Lurie (2015) based their study on 6,669,603 subjects and after the unqualified subjects had been removed from the study, the total patient number accounted for 24,068,808 office visits. They concluded, “No mechanism by which SM [spinal manipulation] induces injury into normal healthy tissues has been identified” (Whedon et al., 2015, p. 5). This study supersedes all the rhetoric about chiropractic and stroke and renders an outcome assessment to help guide the triage pattern of mechanical spine patients.