2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Knowledge Base

Welcome to our extensive library of articles on health concerns and conditions, alternative therapies, nutrition, nutritional supplements, and much more. Acupuncture / Traditional Chinese Medicine Aging Allergies & Food Sensitivities Alternative Therapies Big Pharma Evils Bone Health Candida (Yeast) and Parasites Cardiovascular Health Case Studies Chiropractic & Physical Medicine Dermatology Digestion Diseases Ear, Nose & Throat Environmental Sensitivities Eye Care Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Fitness & Exercise Health Insurance Issues Healthy Lifestyle Immune System Inflammation Integrative Medicine Lyme Disease & Morgellons Men's Health Mental Health Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements, Vitamins, & Herbal Remedies Pain Management Sexual Health Thyroid, Adrenal, & Sex Hormone Issues Weight Issues Women's Health

Fibromyalgia Explained: Why the Pain?

To understand fibromyalgia and why so many doctors tell their fibro patients, “All your tests are normal,” you need to think about serotonin, the brain chemical that acts as a buffer against stress.

Women have lower levels of serotonin than men, and as a consequence they’re more vulnerable to stress of any kind. Some women have it worse, coming from families at the very low end of the serotonin curve, and they have an even higher rate of low-serotonin disorders.

By way of background: women whose low serotonin makes them particularly susceptible to stress are sensitive to everything. They feel potentially painful stimulus (like an inflated blood pressure cuff) more strongly than others and are unusually sensitive to certain foods, chemicals, and drug side effects. They’re also extremely aware of changes in their body, know their hormones, feel when a food is wrong for them, and sense negative energy from an indifferent or impatient physician. Interestingly, low-serotonin women are often creative and highly intuitive, frequently needing to explain what’s obvious (to them) to their otherwise clueless life partners.

Men, of course, are not immune to low-serotonin disorders, but statistically women far outnumber them.

It’s also worth noting that all the low-serotonin disorders were once thought to be psychological in nature. The list includes depression, anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive thinking, compulsive behaviors, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, anger issues (common in men), and self medication tendencies using food (especially carbs), alcohol, and other drugs.

Why are the herb St. John’s wort and the SSRI family of meds (Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, et al) effective against these disorders? Because they boost serotonin levels within the brain.

Let’s discuss the pain
The physical manifestations of low-serotonin disorders occur when your body itself experiences unchecked stress. Your fight-or-flight response is meant to be a quick “on-off” system that gets you out of trouble. It’s supposed to shoot you full of adrenaline so you can move with lightning speed to avoid an oncoming car, for example. But for stressed-out low-serotonin women, it’s like the fight-or-flight “on” button is pressed down and held there, putting their stress response systems into constant overdrive. After a time, the body simply can’t cope.

Most people first notice the physical manifestations of stress as constant tension in the muscles of their neck and upper back. These muscles fan out over the top of the head (tension headaches), jaw (jaw-clenching TMJ), and face (pressure sensation, often incorrectly diagnosed as sinus headache). Migraine headaches are involved here, too, when arteries deep in the brain start contracting in response to stress messages. If you observe women in a workplace, someone’s always reaching behind to massage a knot in her shoulder or tilting her head back to dig in and loosen her neck muscles.

When muscles start tightening up over your entire body, you’re entering fibromyalgia territory.

The extremely painful tender points of fibro are small areas on bones where muscles are attached. Once tender points are activated, it becomes painful to sit for long periods, find a comfortable way to sleep, or even to fall asleep at all. A diagnosis of fibromyalgia depends on the existence of these tender points, and doctors who understand fibro will apply about ten pounds of fingertip pressure to them to illicit a response like “Gee doc, that REALLY HURTS!”

Here’s a fibro diagnosis in a nutshell: Three or more months of widespread muscle pain and chronic tiredness, 11 of 18 tender points elicit an “Ow!” response and the tender points have a right-left symmetry and the tender points are above and below the belt-line.

Each of these low-serotonin symptoms is a physiological response to stress–not a disease. As crazy as it may seem, your body is reacting in the way it’s supposed to react, given the excessive stress and insufficient stress buffer. But because your body’s response is not a disease, finding a cause for these symptoms flies under the radar of blood tests, x-rays, and other diagnostic tests.

In other words: “Your tests are normal.”

A few review notes:
• Fibro is one of the low-serotonin disorders, a group of often disabling conditions that manifest themselves among genetically susceptible people (mainly women) after a period in their lives of unchecked stress.
• Because of the relationship between serotonin and estrogen, the severity of any low-serotonin disorder (but especially fibro) parallels your estrogen level. Hence, symptoms worsen during PMS days and perimenopause, when estrogen levels are dropping. Most women feel a shade better the week after their periods, when estrogen (and serotonin) levels are rising. Most patients feel better in summer than winter because sunshine boosts serotonin levels.
• Low-serotonin disorders can begin at any age when stress exceeds stress buffer. My youngest fibro patient was eight years old. Serotonin disorders like childhood depression and anxiety have reached epidemic proportions.
• From a biographical perspective, fibromyalgia usually follows a “year from hell” in a woman’s life, a perfect storm of a stressful job, stressful family situation, and, these days, a stressful world.
• “Time heals all wounds” ought to apply. Most stressful life events recede, given enough time. But for fibro patients, they’re replaced by the stress of fibromyalgia itself with its relentless widespread pain, profound fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, and a medical system (“We can’t find anything wrong with you”) that doesn’t know how or exactly what to treat (“I’m referring you to a …”). Soon the quest to simply feel “normal” again becomes life’s major source of stress.

Fibro begins with stressors that trigger painful muscle contractions. Now that same pain exacerbates stress, which further increases pain levels: an evil snowball of pain, rolling down a mountain, larger and larger, out of control.

Hang in there–later in this series I’ll discuss treatment.

Next week: Why am I so tired? Is this chronic fatigue syndrome?

Click here for Part 3.

Leave a Comment


  1. Suzanne Kush says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write these. I am living proof that one can fully recover from Fibromyalgia and CFS after having them for many years and being misdiagnosed. Dr. Edelberg has been critical on my path to recovery. Don’t give up hope or your efforts to recover! Everyday I have to do the right things that keep them from returning. I cannot change my susceptibility to them, but I can change how I take care of the susceptibility and myself.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Upcoming Workshops

**Vaginal Rejuvenation
July 25th, 6:30pm – 8:00pm    

Registration Fee: $65
Mari Stecker, LAc & Renee Zambo, RYT

Are you experiencing vaginal dryness? Or pain with intercourse? Have you been told you have vaginal atrophy due to menopauseAre you frustrated because you believe your sex life is overWell, it doesn’t have to be!

Come learn easy, non-pharmaceutical, non-hormonal, low cost techniques that you can do at home to help alleviate vaginal dryness, atrophy, thinning of vaginal skin and/or painful intercourse.

This class is appropriate for any woman who is experiencing discomfort during intercourse, pelvic exams or daily activities due to vaginal dryness and atrophy as well as women who are experiencing vaginal changes due to perimenopause, menopause, cancer treatments, hysterectomy or medications.

This class will include information on specific instructions for self-treatments that can be done at home as well as yoga postures and meditation that focus on the pelvic region.

Movement and breath will draw awareness to the pelvic floor, and facilitate both the full relaxation and activation of pelvic floor muscles. A short guided meditation will reconnect awareness to the feminine energy held within the pelvis.

This workshop is currently Sold Out! Please call the Center at (773) 296-6700 to be placed on a standby list. The workshop will be repeated in the Fall.

 

**An Introduction to Healing Touch
Wednesday, July 26th
5:30-6pm – Light refreshments
6-7:30pm – Workshop
Registration Fee: $40

Would you like to find relief from pain and anxiety without medicine?
Are you interested in releasing old patterns and stepping into a new sense of health and vitality?
Would you like to experience optimum performance with more focus, creativity, purpose, and meaning in your life?

Introduction to Healing Touch; A Gift for Self and Others
with WholeHealth Chicago’s Healing Touch Practitioner, Katie Oberlin, HTCP/I

The workshop offers:

  • an overview of energy medicine
  • specific methods that can be administered to others and utilized for self care
  • support for health and well being in body, mind, and spirit

Space is limited and registration is required.
Register online or call WholeHealth Chicago at 773-296-6700

 

**Yoga Therapy for Sleep Disturbance
Wednesday, August 16th
6pm – 7:30pm
Registration Fee: $60 (take home materials included)
Instructor: WholeHealth Chicago’s Yoga Therapist Renee Zambo, RYT

From getting to sleep to staying asleep, sleep disturbances plague many of us. Our brains and bodies require a complete cycle of thorough rest to properly detox and rejuvenate.

Yoga Therapy for Sleep Disturbance will discuss underlying causes for sleep disturbance, and ways to properly unwind at the close of a day. Specific methods to support participants with conditions such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, and elevated stress will be highlighted for improving rest and recovery.  Read more>>

Space is limited and registration is required.
Register online or call WholeHealth Chicago at 773-296-6700

 

**Join us for a demonstration of Taoist Tai Chi® internal arts of health
Saturday, August 26th at 11:00AM – 12:00PM
There is no fee for this program
WholeHealth Chicago
2265 North Clybourn Ave.
773-296-6700

This demonstration of Taoist Tai Chi® arts will give you an opportunity to learn more about this ancient path to good health of body and mind. Taoist Tai Chi® arts help to promote a healthy, balanced life style and a simple way to manage stress. Taoist Tai Chi® arts offers a chance to discover a powerful adaptable, and accessible tool for all ages, including seniors, and people with specific health concerns. These arts can be used to help people take responsibility for their health on its own or as a complement to medical treatment they may be receiving.

Recent Health Tips

  • Your Smartphone Is Stealing Your Brain

    Your Smartphone Is Stealing Your Brain

    Spoiler alert: I don’t own a smartphone. Also, I’ve been reluctant to write a Health Tip on smartphones lest two of my least desirable characteristics–smugness and self-righteousness– surface. But now a very well-conducted research study on how smartphones lead to cognitive decline compels me to …Read More »
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

    I’d been reading Ally Hilfiger’s new autobiography Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy, and Almost Killed Me, preferring the Lyme parts to those devoted to fashion and her MTV “Rich Girl” series. Her symptoms were typical of chronic Lyme and simply …Read More »

July Sale: 20% Off Metagenic OmegaGenic Products

No one looks at quality quite the way Metagenics does. They devote the time and personnel to verify ingredient safety, ensure proper ingredient form/identity, and then test for purity and quality at multiple steps. This diligence may not change the way products look, but Metagenics knows it makes a measurable difference in the way their products perform.

Take 20% off these OmegaGenic products during July. Read more>>