Fibromyalgia is a condition that can affect anyone, but by a large margin predominantly impacts women. As many as 90% of diagnosed fibromyalgia cases are women. Because men and women are genetically different, they may experience the disorder quite differently. Fibromyalgia symptoms in males overall seem to be fewer and milder, though they can certainly suffer as much as females do. Perhaps because of this fact, men might not seek out help or are misdiagnosed because they describe their fibromyalgia symptoms differently.
What Accounts for Fibromyalgia Differences in Men and Women?
Because there is still much to be understood about fibromyalgia, ongoing research will help us know with certainty why men and women experience the condition differently. There are differences in genes, hormones, and immune system between women and men. Several theories exist that help to explain the differences:
Estrogen – estrogen is thought of as being protective against pain. For example, it is present at very high levels during pregnancy, likely to help women navigate through the pain of childbirth. In non-pregnant women, estrogen levels fluctuate along with the menstrual cycle. Many female fibromyalgia sufferers will notice that their symptoms are at their worst right before starting their menstrual cycle when estrogen levels plummet and are at their lowest.
Endorphins – endorphins are natural substances in the brain that act as natural painkillers by activating certain receptors. Men might release endorphins more effectively than women, suggesting that women have a different hard-wired pain response.
Testosterone – the hormone testosterone might have a protective quality against pain. While women are estrogen dominant, men have higher levels of testosterone which might make them less prone to developing fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms Go Beyond Pain and Tender Points
Fibromyalgia isn’t just musculoskeletal pain – the condition affects many other body systems causing a broad array of possible symptoms.
Endocrine system (hormone production and balance)
- Sleep – if fibromyalgia is known for anything else aside from widespread pain, it’s sleep disturbances. Fibromyalgia sufferers have a notoriously difficult time with sleep. Sleep is not restorative, so no matter how many hours of sleep you might get, you don’t awaken feeling rested and refreshed.
- Fatigue – chronic daytime fatigues affects many fibromyalgia sufferers. With fibromyalgia-related fatigue, sleep does little to nothing to bring relief.
- Sleep apnea – sleep apnea is a condition that causes your breathing to become shallow or temporarily cease while you’re asleep. Fibromyalgia patients experience an increased incidence of sleep apnea and other sleep-disordered breathing.
- Interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) – a chronic bladder problem caused by bladder wall irritation or inflammation.
- Painful urination
- Increased need to empty bladder
- Increased bladder pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – IBS has a range of symptoms from constipation to diarrhea. It can also cause bloating, cramping, nausea, and abdominal pain.
- Reproductive system
- Painful intercourse
- Stronger menstrual pain in women with fibromyalgia vs. women without the disorder
- Central sensitization – we’ll discuss the role of the central nervous system in fibromyalgia more below, but fibromyalgia sufferers experience pain differently than those without the condition. Central sensitization makes it feel as if the volume knob for pain has been turned up too high. Stimuli that would not ordinarily be perceived as painful might be interpreted by the central nervous system as very painful in someone suffering from fibromyalgia.
Caring for the Nervous System with Upper Cervical Chiropractic
When most people think about the spine, their nervous system isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. However, for fibromyalgia sufferers, looking to the spine has been a source of natural relief that they’ve been seeking. Your central nervous system (CNS) is comprised of your brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. This system acts as an information superhighway, carrying signals to and from each tissue and organ of your body to coordinate its function. It is the job of your spinal column to provide sturdy protection for the delicate nerve tissues of the CNS. The amplification of pain signals that fibromyalgia sufferers experience is a result of a central nervous system that is not signaling properly.
Upper cervical chiropractic care focuses on the part of the spine that has a tremendous influence on the central nervous system. Your atlas (C1) and axis (C2) vertebra have the important function of protecting your brainstem as it exits from the base of the skull and transitions into the spinal cord. Your brainstem acts similar to a switchboard, processing and directing messages between the brain and body. It has a large role in the processing of pain signals. The atlas and axis are unique in that they move much more freely than the rest of the vertebrae of your spine. This makes sense given that they are responsible for the freedom of movement of our heads. However, that means that they can also be particularly vulnerable to misaligning as a result of injury. In fact, many fibromyalgia sufferers can recall some kind of accident or injury in the months or years leading up to their initial flare-up.
Upper cervical chiropractors are specially trained to detect even the most subtle misalignments that can be compromising your body’s pain processing system. Care is particularly well-suited to fibromyalgia sufferers because it is extremely gentle. We recognize that chronic pain and sensitivity is a hallmark of your condition and use very little force in order to make precise corrections that restore normal alignment to the spine. Once the irritation to the CNS is reduced, your body will have the opportunity to heal naturally, getting you back to the quality of life you desire.
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