Three and a half years ago I never thought I would be being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Now here in 2023 I find myself being diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis are chronic pain conditions. Fibromyalgia in itself is debilitating enough. Experts share that fibromyalgia often co occurs with some form of arthritis. In a study 88.7% of participants reported chronic joint pain/degenerative arthritis along side their fibromyalgia. Read more here about the study!
I found out last spring that I have osteoarthritis in my neck. My neurologist had ordered a cervical neck MRI which revealed arthritis. I always thought the neck pain I was experiencing was all fibromyalgia pain. When I found out I have osteoarthritis in my lower back as well, it came as no surprise. If osteoarthritis is found in one area of the body, it is most likely in other areas of the body too! My doctor suspects I may have OA in my finger joints and knees as well. Osteoarthritis has no cure. The belief is that OA often gets worse over time- but not in all cases. Experts say lifestyle measures such as exercising, maintaining a healthy diet/ weight, or attending physiotherapy sessions can help relieve pain and possibly slow progression. However, when you factor in fibromyalgia it complicates osteoarthritis greatly.
Fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis are two separate conditions. the coexistence of both together can make the symptoms of each condition worse! Both conditions have overlapping symptoms such as stiffness, pain and limited range of motion.
Fibromyalgia causes the brain to misread pain signals. In my case, my fibromyalgia makes my osteoarthritis pain feel worse then what it actually is. Technically my OA is considered mild, but I’ve had several doctors tell me that I am most likely feeling the pain at moderate to severe pain levels. For example, the arthritis is my neck causes severe pain to form leaving me unable to turn my head or even lift my arms. The pain radiates into my shoulders and upper back limiting my range of motion in all areas. Fibromyalgia tender points are often seen in the neck and upper back as well. Adding the pain from both conditions can become very debilitating.
Fibromyalgia and OA both report sleep disturbances. Fibromyalgia rarely left my lower back and hips with pain. When the pain got unbearable I knew something was not right. The lower back and hip pain would continuously wake me up through the night. It was impossible to find a sleep position that wouldn’t exacerbate the pain. I already suffer with insomnia from fibromyalgia,` then the OA pain made sleeping even harder. Research states 70% of people with OA have a sleep disturbance. Cortisol ( hormone that helps control inflammation) levels in your body also drop through the day and are the lowest at night. When cortisol levels are low more inflammation takes place causing pain and discomfort to result. Read more about how osteoarthritis impacts our sleep here.
Mental health issues can also be seen in people with fibromyalgia and any form of arthritis. Anxiety and depression are two examples of mental health issues that can form. No matter what mental health condition you are faced with, it adds extra stress to your body causing more pain or higher pain levels to be felt. It is know that mental health conditions can lower one’s pain threshold even lower. In return, the chronic pain being felt will cause higher levels and anxiety to form even more. It becomes a vicious circle! Learn more about how arthritis can impact your mental health here.
How to limit pain levels in both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis
1. Massages are often recommended for both conditions. Massages may help relax tense muscles which will reduce pain. In osteoarthritis, massage can help reduce swelling, improve joint mobility, and provide stress relief! If you can handle hands on treatment routes you may find this helpful!
2. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps. Fibromyalgic muscles are tense. Adding dehydration on top can exacerbate the pain. Water helps the muscle flush out toxins that need to be removed. Same goes with osteoarthritis – water helps flush out body toxins and can help fight inflammation and hydrated cartilage helps reduce friction between bones ( move easier) .
3. Swimming or walking in water. Swimming has been proven to help both conditions. Water exercises are easier on your joints and muscles then dry land exercise. Swimming will also help stimulate blood circulation and can help reduce muscle stiffness and ease pain levels. Experts state that the water provides resistance that helps boost your strength and over all range of motion!
4. Walking. Walking has been proven to help both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. With both conditions, we need to continue to stay active to prevent muscle/joint stiffness or loss. Even if you can only handle walking for one minute, it will help. Slowly build yourself up in walking time. My max walking time most days is 15-20 minutes at a time. I pushed myself on a walk yesterday and I almost had to send someone home for a vehicle. Walk within your limits! Walking is considered a low impact exercise, which is recommended for both fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis!
5. Heat. For many of us applying heat to our aching bodies help relieve fibromyalgia pain. Osteoarthritis pain can also be relieved with heat. Heat can be very effective to help relieve stiffness of the joints from inactivity!
I am sure there are more strategies out there to help combat fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. I am currently working along side a physiotherapist to help gain some strength and mobility back. I am also seeing a psychologist who is helping me find routes to help lesson my pain levels. I have only just started my journey with both these health care providers, but I have a feeling both treatment routes will be very beneficial!