Singer Lady Gaga. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/06/Lady_Gaga_You_and_I.jpg
One of music's biggest stars recently cancelled her European tour due to her unexplained illness. After being hospitalized, the decision to cancel Lady Gaga's Joanne World Tour seemed a prudent one. Lady Gaga took to her Instagram account to apologize to her fans and let them know that she suffers from a mysterious chronic pain disorder known as Fibromyalgia (FM) which is musculoskeletal syndrome.
It starts in the brain and causes widespread pain in the joints and muscles coupled with intense fatigue, sleep, mood and memory issues. More than twelve million people suffer from FM syndrome, with most of the affected being women between the ages of twenty-five and sixty. The fatigue that FM patients feel is one that often leaves them unable to get out of bed or stand well. Some of the effects of having FM culminate in anxiety, depression, tension headaches, IBS and TMJ.
How Does FM Present?
Everything that is done in the human body starts with the brain: thoughts, translating those thoughts into action, breathing, sleeping, staying awake, and unfortunately pain. Without the pain centers of the brain sending signals, people wouldn’t be able to feel pain, control it or eliminate it. t+The brain tells their bodies when they should feel, for lack of a better term, big pain and little pain. Pain signals are useful because they train us to know what sort of stimuli is dangerous or potentially life threatening, bit pain.
But what happens when the brain malfunctions and the pain signals that we get are all big pain signals? Or everything is interpreted as pain? In a normal working brain that doesn’t happen, but researchers have discovered recently similarities in the brains of chronic pain sufferers that points to their brains working, or not working much differently.
Pain is the body’s alarm system. When infection is present, or an accident happens this is the body’s way of signaling that something is wrong and that help needs to be sought. But how precisely does that work? Our bodies have thousands of nerves that carry signals to the brain. There are structures in the soft tissue of the body known as nociceptors that are the nerve endings of, these lay in the hands, feet and just about anywhere else that we have soft tissue, and there are thousands of them per square inch of soft tissue.
When these structures are damaged by some accident, for instance someone burns their finger on a stove or a match these structures send a pain signal that travels up the nerve to the spinal cord, and from there to another nerve depending on the body part affected, to the brain because in order for the brain to respond correctly it must be able to identify the corresponding body part.
The pain processes in patients with chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia seem to be in overdrive. Patients with chronic pain disorders seem to be hypersensitive to bad stimuli, and their bodies react accordingly by sending messages to the pain matrix at a constant rate. The most recent pain study conducted published in the journal Pain, looked at scans of the brains of people diagnosed with two chronic pain disorders and compared them to people who had normal pain reactions.
There is no one standard cure for FM because symptoms and severity vary greatly among patients, the doctor may prescribe different paths for each. For those that don’t have the most severe pain, physical therapy may be indicated to keep the joints healthy. There are also medications on the market meant to treat the symptoms that doctors may prescribe. Dealing with the secondary symptoms of FM such as depression and sleeplessness may also involve medication at the discretion of the physician. Patients on their own can join support groups to be among people that have an understanding of what they’re experiencing.
For many chronic pain sufferers the only thing that brings relief are prescription opioids. The trouble with opioids is that they are inherently addictive, and it can be difficult to wean long term patients. A 2014 NIH journal article estimated that the number of people addicted to opioids worldwide was between twenty-six and thirty-six million. What most people that suffer chronic pain aren’t aware of is that there are many holistic ways to treating this pain without having to suffer the possibility of becoming addicted to a prescription drug.
Opioids can not only become addictive, but can cause extreme sedative symptoms which for an active performer like Lady Gaga can quickly become an issue. So what would her alternatives be to prescription opioids?
Luckily there are many holistic options available to not just FM patients, but all chronic pain sufferers that seem to make headway in managing and controlling pain.
Alternatives To Opioids
Acupuncture is one such option with a process that involves placing fine needles into strategic points of the body in varying degrees. They’re then left in place for various times frames and can be stimulated even further by applying heat or electricity. Acupuncture is often used to treat pain in other situations, and can be used to minimize chronic pain but the gain seems to be modest at most. However the risk benefit ratio is low and it’s a perfectly safe practice when performed by someone that is trained in the art. Chronic pain is difficult to manage for most, so anything that provides even the slightest amount of relief is welcome to patients.
Therapeutic massage is also a viable option that can be helpful in managing pain as well. The body's soft tissues are manipulated the help with relaxation of the muscles involved in pain. The circulation system, lymphatic and nervous systems also benefit from it as well. Many pain clinics and treatment centers have started implementing holistic massage as a first step to treating chronic pain before moving on to other methods such as opioids if it doesn’t work well for a patient.
The downside to massage is that the benefits and effects are not long lasting and may need to be done at least once or twice a week to maintain relief. Many types of massage therapies can be used to manage pain and include deep tissue massage which helps to relieve knots, scars and muscles involved in chronic pain. Lymphatic drainage massage helps to release the toxins from the body and boosts the immune system. Swedish massages deep movements involve all the systems of the body
Marijuana has long been known to have an effect on chronic pain, particularly chronic pain that involves nerves and joints. It’s used most often by cancer patients receiving chemotherapy because in addition to its pain relieving properties it also reduced nausea and stimulates the appetite. Marijuana usage and the sale is still illegal in many states and patients can be arrested if found using or obtaining in a public area. To counteract that, there are currently two prescription drugs that are made from the active ingredient found in marijuana that have been prescribed for pain.
There are some supplements like fish oil that have been shown to be beneficial in easing some types of pain. Glucosamine is a supplement that has been known to provide joint pain relief for those that suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee, and topical capsaicin made from the active ingredient in chilis is said to help those with diabetic nerve pain and arthritis. Supplements however do come with their share of risks, some have been know to cause unwanted side effects such as ginseng and ginkgo which are known to cause blood thinning and increase bleeding risks and shouldn’t be used by those with blood disorders or those taking blood thinners.
Although now viewed as a legitimate medical science, chiropractic medicine still qualifies as an alternative because it focuses less on the dispensation of medicines, and more on neuromuscular disorders by aligning the bones of the body so that the body functions better as a whole. Chiropractic is helpful to patients with chronic pain through spinal manipulation. Studies have shown that manipulation decreases pain while improving physical functions.
Getting Back To The Tour
While certainly Lady Gaga has the best team of physicians to help ease her way back on the stage so that she can provide her adoring fans with the musical inspiration they crave, it's heartening that a celebrity of her stature has taken to social media to inform and educate people about this disease that doesn't get enough coverage as a legitimate one.