There exists a group of people in the world who are in a state of constant and chronic pain. These individuals, suffering from a disease called fibromyalgia, are frequently experiencing bouts of musculoskeletal pain, alongside several psychological symptoms that stem from said pains. Those that suffer from fibromyalgia often have trouble relaxing, performing basic activities, or even getting around, since their state of constant pain is debilitating to the point of being unable to stand, move, or function properly.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Simply put, fibromyalgia is a chronic disease characterized by severe and generalized musculoskeletal pain, with a great hypersensibility is certain parts of the body referred to as tender points and which vary in location according to each individual. The particularity about said tender points is that these have no identifiable physical damage, nor other signs which may suggest an origin to said ailments. Fibromyalgia is, additionally, linked to a wide variety of signs and symptoms, among which the most notable are — aside from the constant aching pain — a persistent and intense fatigue, and the prevalence of non-recuperative sleep; the person is constantly tired, and no amount of sleep can help him or her regain energy.
It is estimated that, in any given country, around 2% of their population, on average, suffer from this condition. The countries with the most prevalence of fibromyalgia, according to a study performed in 2013, are Germany with 3.2% of its population suffering from the condition, while the country with the lowest prevalence is France, with only 1.4% of its total population reported as suffering from fibromyalgia. The disease is much more common in women than in men, as the former has approximately 10 times higher chances of developing the disease.
Fibromyalgia can affect men and women of any age, though it is frequently observed in individuals in the range of 20-50 years old. Regardless, there are a number of reported cases of fibromyalgia in both children as well as the elderly. Furthermore, there is a good probability that the prevalence is actually much higher than the numbers show, as is has been discovered that at least 90% of the cases might run undiagnosed due to the person’s ignorance of the disease, or because some clinicians don’t recognize the condition as an actual disease, rather as a series of symptoms which must be addressed individually.
Fibromyalgia is more likely to be developed by individuals who already suffer from chronic rheumatological or psychological disorders. Those who are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis are expected to develop fibromyalgia if their condition is left untreated or unchecked by a team of capable medical professionals.
How is it Caused?
Despite its mostly physical signs and symptoms, fibromyalgia is often accompanied by other rheumatological and psychiatric conditions and, due to the latter, it is a popular theory that this condition is a result of psychological somatization. In other words, there is a strong belief that fibromyalgia’s symptoms have no specific physical origin and that they are a byproduct of another psychiatric disorder.
There are, of course, other studies which have revealed that the condition is purely neurological and that its symptoms are caused by a chemical imbalance in the subject’s central nervous system that may cause generalized allodynia and hyperalgesia.
In reality, the causal relationship between the disease’s many underlying factors has still yet to be pinpointed. However, there has been observed a connection between the condition’s prevalence and certain abnormalities in several vital systems, including the central and peripheral nervous systems, neurotransmitters and hormones, sleep rhythm, genetics, the immune system, and the psyche. As was mentioned above, people who are already suffering from chronic rheumatological diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and are constantly exposed to mental and physical stress are more likely to develop fibromyalgia if left untreated.
A Psychotherapeutic Approach?
It has already been established by certain parties that fibromyalgia is a purely-neurological disease and that it is in no way caused by somatization or as a byproduct of underlying psychological afflictions. However, it has been noted that the prevalence of the disease is, to an extent, related to the physical and mental stress that the person is constantly exposed to, such as the ones derived from busy schedules, very demanding work obligations, and failure to adapt to certain social situations.
While the disease may not be caused by psychiatric afflictions, it is more than clear that there is a very intimate link between the person’s mental health and the prevalence or exacerbation of his or her symptoms. In this manner, it makes sense that a psychotherapeutic approach could offer great benefits to anyone suffering from the disease, as the relief or removal of their psychological ailments may reduce the intensity of his or her physical symptoms. Nevertheless, psychotherapy is often a lengthy process which can seldom be rushed, lest their effectiveness be forfeit. There are alternative methods, such as mindful meditation and deep breathing, which the patient can adopt in order to calm their psychological symptoms during episodes or relapses. However, these only provide temporary respite from a condition which otherwise affects them on a daily basis.
Fortunately, there exists a method which has been used to accelerate the effectiveness of any psychological treatment, bringing about a great improvement in short periods of time. This approach, called hypnosis, is characterized by a state of mind or group of attitudes brought about by a discipline called hypnotism. It consists of a series of preliminary instructions and suggestions which are related to the patient, and are used to produce in him a state of deep relaxation where he or she still remain aware of instructions and are capable of holding a conversation. This state of mind allows the psychotherapist to investigate directly the mechanisms behind certain afflictions, or to obtain information that the patient might have been unable to consciously recall.
Other than investigative purposes, the suggestions provided to the patient while in a state of hypnotism can also trigger in him deep changes which will remain present far after he or she is brought back into consciousness. For this reason, hypnotherapy has often been used to address certain behavioral issues or conditions, such as obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. This therapy can also help greatly in pain management for diseases which are exacerbated by the presence of psychological stressors, such as fibromyalgia.
In fibromyalgia, specifically, the symptoms are often worsened when the patient constantly rehashes anxiety-ridden experiences in their mind, much like those that suffer from PTSD. Through hypnotherapy, the specialist can help the patient ease the emotional burden caused by said experiences, and lighten the burdens they’ve been dragging from a possibly traumatic past.
If anything, it will help tremendously to help them live better, fuller lives, and without the constant worry brought about by the inability to cope with the constant torment of painful or depressing thoughts.