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Fibromyalgia

Excerpt from New Menopausal Years, the Wise Woman Way, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 by Susun Weed

"Dear woman," Grandmother Growth's voice seems to float in the deepening twilight, echoing, reverberating, ringing in your ears. "Bring me your soreness. Bring me your pain. Bring your aches to me. Bring your burdens. Bring all you can no longer stand, can no longer bear, can no longer carry, can no longer shoulder, can no longer be responsible for. Give it to me. Put it down. Let us sit in council together and listen to the stories your pain tells. Menopause is a journey that requires you to pack light. Heavy things — bitterness, regret, vengeance, clinging to pain — will make your travels wearisome and bring you down. Take only the stories. Leave the rest behind. Burn the soreness in your hot flashes. Let it leave you. This is the Change. Let it change you, dear woman; let it change you."

Step 0: Do Nothing
Women dealing with fibromyalgia have less pain if they sleep in a completely dark room. If that's impossible, wear a sleep mask.

Step 1: Collect Information
The chronic pain disorder that, ten years ago, I called "sore all over" is now called fibromyalgia, and it’s big news. Ninety percent of the 4 million Americans dealing with this debilitating, frustrating condition are white women, and many of them are menopausal.

Neither cause nor cure for fibromyalgia is known. It is not a disease but a range of symptoms characterized by chronic, widespread pain on both sides of the body, above and below the waist. (As one of my apprentices put it: "But I don't hurt in all those places at once. The pain moves around. I never know where it will be next.") Some women have a low fever in addition to pain. More than half of those with fibromyalgia also suffer from headaches, endometriosis, and/or irritable bowel syndrome.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are quite variable, making diagnosis difficult. (Orthodox diagnosis is predicated on finding soreness at specific trigger points.) Fibromyalgia mimics aspects of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, hepatitis C, hypothyroidism, lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica, and early dementia. Many women with fibromyalgia are told their distress is "all in your mind."

It isn't in your mind (alone). Menopause can leave you feeling like you've been beaten on. Muscles respond to hormonal changes by feeling sore and cranky. Sleep loss can make you ache. (Non-restorative sleep is a hallmark of fibromyalgia.) Lack of calcium (and other minerals) can make your bones ache. Whether you are dealing with these challenges, or the greater problem of fibromyalgia, why not give Wise Woman Ways a try? The remedies listed here have been remarkably successful in helping many women.

"People with fibromyalgia aren't just sensitive to pain; they also find loud noises, strong odors, and bright lights aversive." — Daniel Clauw, MD, Director: Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, Georgetown University

Step 2: Engage the Energy
Having a support group is one of the strongest factors in keeping fibromyalgia under control.

Homeopathic Arnica is an amazing remedy for sore and aching muscles. Daily use of homeopathic Rhus toxicodendron reduced pain by 25 percent in those with fibromyalgia.

Make a list of things you are sore (upset, angry) about. Where do these things live in your body? With the help of an experienced bodyworker, loosen those places. Women with fibromyalgia are very likely to be survivors of trauma (sexual or domestic violence, alcoholism).

Go back to your Mother. Float in the ocean. Lie belly down on the earth. Naked. Let her ease you. Let her heal you.
Listen to a relaxation tape. Have someone show you how to do the yoga position called the "Corpse Pose." Learn how to bring yourself to a deep state of inner quiet and peaceful mind.

Hypnotherapy can help you gain some degree of mental control over your symptoms. Cognitive behavior therapy is also helpful.

Step 3: Nourish and Tonify
Consistent use of nourishing herbal infusions, especially comfrey leaf and stinging nettle, in place of coffee, tea, and sodas is the single most effective thing I know for mitigating and overcoming fibromyalgia.

Gentle exercise — walks, yoga or tai chi practices — keeps muscles from weakening and becoming more painful. Experts suggest starting with as little as three minutes a day, and gradually building to at least four sessions of five minutes each per day. Persist; the reward is worth it.

Regular consumption of yogurt also proves very helpful for those with fibromyalgia. Perhaps it is due to yogurt's ability to strengthen and nourish immunity; some suspect fibromyalgia is a result of immune system malfunction.

Magnesium is a critical nutrient for preventing pain in muscles and connective tissues. Legumes, whole grains, leafy greens and nourishing herbal infusions — like nettle and oatstraw — are the best sources.

Moxibustion is also known as needleless acupuncture. Safe and easy to do at home by yourself, moxibustion gives fast relief from sore joints and aching muscles. It not only relieves pain but tonifies, decreasing future pain and gradually effecting a "cure." You can buy a moxa "cigar" at an Oriental pharmacy or health food store. Light the moxa, then bring its glowing end near the painful area and move it around in small slow spirals until the heat becomes too intense. (This may take a few minutes or many.) Pain relief is usually immediate and often lasts for twelve or more hours.

Step 4: Stimulate/Sedate
Tinctures of willow bark or spirea (a dose of 1-2 dropperfuls or 1-2 ml) are highly recommended as important green allies by women dealing with fibromyalgia.

St. Joan's/John’s wort tincture — not capsules, not the tea — is a powerful ally for women with fibromyalgia. It is one of the best muscle relaxants I have ever used. A dose of 25-30 drops not only stops but also prevents muscle aches. I have used it as frequently as every twenty minutes (for ten doses) when the occasion has necessitated it. St. Joan's wort prevents soreness when taken after exercise; it works even better if taken before. During plane trips I take a dose every hour to prevent muscle aches and jetlag.

Regular massage from an experienced therapist stimulates the circulation of blood and energy, relieves pain, reduces fatigue, and eases stiffness. Avoid deep tissue massage; it increases pain. Light strokes and gentle myofascial releases are more helpful. Chiropractic manipulations are of little benefit.

Massage with heated stones and other heat treatments works wonders for some women. For others, cold treatments work better (but not too cold, and not for too long either, please).

Ginger compresses, hot or cold, stir up circulation and mobilize the body's own healing agents to take action and ease your pain. I grate several ounces of fresh ginger into simmering water, cook it gently for ten minutes, then soak a cloth in the liquid and use that as an application to the sore area.

The National Institutes of Health list fibromyalgia as one of the few conditions that acupuncture can relieve.[1]

If lying down sleep makes the pain worse, slip into something relaxing: up to a dropperful (1 ml) of one of these: valerian, skullcap, or St. Joan's wort tinctures, repeated twice if needed.

Step 5a: Use Supplements
A study found that those with fibromyalgia gain little benefit from taking either SAM-e or 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan — a precursor[2] to serotonin). Do not use 5-HTP if you are taking St. Joan's wort.

Lack of sleep can quickly aggravate symptoms of fibromyalgia. (See Step 0.) If sleep confounds you, melatonin (the lowest dose you can get) at bedtime may help.

Step 5b: Use Drugs
Several women who have dealt with fibromyalgia for many years recommended essential oil of lavender. Dilute with jojoba or olive oil and use as a rub.

Orthodox treatment of fibromyalgia relies heavily on drugs, primarily antispasmodics, antidepressants, and muscle-relaxants: Celebrex, Vioxx, Voltaren, amitriptyline (Elavil), fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), trazadone (Desyrel), alprazolam (Xanax), and cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril). But these drugs can adversely affect the liver and disrupt the immune system.[3]

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen do not reduce fibromyalgia pain for most women.

Tramadol (Ultram) is a drug which addresses both the altered brain chemicals and the pain signals of those with fibromyalgia.

Step 6: Break and Enter
Beware of invasive diagnostic tests. Many women report enduring endless rounds of tests trying to put a name to their pains with no success and at the price of physical, mental, and emotional distress.

Injections of lidocaine, a drug that temporarily numbs nerves, are effective in relieving fibromyalgia pain for some women. Injections of capsaicin (from cayenne) relieve pain by destroying nerve endings.

Editor's Notes

  1. A current quote from the website of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (one of the National Institutes of Health):
    "What the Science Says About CAM and Fibromyalgia
    According to reviewers who have assessed the research on CAM and fibromyalgia, much of the research is still preliminary, and evidence of effectiveness for the various therapies used is limited. Research on acupuncture — stimulation of anatomical points with thin metallic needles — for fibromyalgia has produced mixed results. One review article notes that three studies found some evidence to support the use of electroacupuncture (in which the needles are pulsed with electric current). However, the effects of electroacupuncture in these studies were mostly short lived, and two studies of traditional acupuncture had negative results."
  2. In this context, precursor means a substance, cell, or cellular component from which another substance, cell, or cellular component is formed.
  3. The generic name for Celebrex is celecoxib; for Vioxx, rofecoxib; for Voltaren, diclofenac.

Graphics Credits

  • corpse pose, courtesy of Jaime Haire. Published under a Creative Commons license.
  • foot massage, courtesy of Rachel. Published under a Creative Commons license.

 

Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.

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