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Pulled, prodded and cracked


The words pulled, prodded and cracked certainly used to summarise my idea of osteopathy and chiropractic treatment. I couldn't understand why anyone would actually want to pay to have a therapist stick their thumbs into your tender and bruised muscles or pull you into unheard of positions in order to crack your joints as though you were a rag doll! Surprisingly, when I actually went to see an osteopath for the first time, I discovered they could be quite gentle creatures and not the embodiment of my nightmares.

Treatments like osteopathy and chiropractic are in fact popular with people who have fibromyalgia. Often disillusioned with what the medical profession can offer, people are turning to alternative therapists in the hope of relief from their symptoms of pain and fatigue. Unfortunately, there is little research evidence to support these alternative options, as one of the latest studies by doctors Sarac and Gur from Turkey point out in their review of complimentary and alternative medical therapies in fibromyalgia.

In chiropractic care, for example, there are apparently no well-designed studies or positive results published, so it is difficult for doctors to recommend such treatments. However, once alternative therapies have been properly evaluated in randomised, placebo-controlled trials they are likely to prove beneficial. At the moment though all you can do is find out about the different types of treatment available, read the anecdotal evidence and decide for yourself whether or not to give it a go. Ask around and talk to other people who have fibromyalgia as they may be able to recommend a specific therapist who has helped them.

You will find that each person will have their own story about what has benefited them and I often find that as soon as someone discovers I have health problems, they are very keen to tell me about a friend of theirs or their Aunt Jane's next-door neighbour whose health improved dramatically when they tried this or that. It is a good idea to try a new therapy for about six months to give it the opportunity to make a difference and for you to judge whether the relief is merely temporary or if you are progressing towards better health. If in doubt, stop the therapy for a while and see if you feel worse without it. So, what can osteopathy and chiropractic treatment offer?

An osteopath has been trained to have a thorough understanding of how the bones and muscles are positioned in the body and work in relation to each other. They use touch to track down any mechanical imbalances in your muscles, ligaments or joints and then use techniques such as deep tissue massage and joint manipulation to correct these imbalances to improve your function and mobility. The idea is also to enhance your body's natural healing ability, as the belief it is that if your musculoskeletal system is functioning properly, then your body will be able to heal itself more effectively.

The therapy is always tailored to the individual, so it is important that your therapist has some understanding of fibromyalgia and is prepared to work with you to find the best approach for you. Some people with fibromyalgia cannot tolerate deep tissue massage as it aggravates the trigger points without releasing them. Others can't get enough and find it successful in releasing the knots in their muscles and allowing them to relax. An osteopath will also examine your posture and the way you move and teach you ways to improve the way you sit and the way you stand to allow you to put as little strain on your muscles and joints as possible.

Bad posture and awkward movement can create trigger points and irritate them once they are there. It is not enough to release the trigger point: you need to stop it coming back. Joint manipulation can seem quite frightening especially when you hear the audible crack which interestingly is actually the sound of gas bubbles popping in the fluid of the joints. Manipulation can release muscle tension and pressure on nerve endings and allow the joints to move more freely. You need to be relaxed to allow a manipulation so it is important that you have faith in your therapist! Acupuncture, laser therapy and relaxation training may also form part of your individual treatment program.

As treatment is tailored to suit the individual no two people will receive the same combination of therapies. An osteopath is trained to treat the whole person rather than simply the symptoms presented.

Chiropractic Treatment
Chiropractic treatment is similar to osteopathy in the way that it concentrates on the functioning of your muscles, ligaments and joints in relation to the nervous system, but it tends to focus more specifically on the spine. The vertebrae of the spine protect all the nerve relay junctions as messages come in from all areas of your body, are integrated and then sent up to the brain. It is a very important area and it is thought that gentle manipulation of the vertebrae can reduce spinal nerve irritation, correct alignment and release the tension in the back muscles.
References to spinal manipulation go back to the ancient Greek and Chinese civilisations with modern chiropractic medicine only emerging around 1895 from a Canadian called Daniel Palmer, who founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic Medicine in Davenport, Iowa in 1897. An offshoot from chiropractic medicine is the McTimoney approach. John McTimoney was trained at the Palmer School and then put his own spin on the treatment. He developed the use of fast, gentle, flicking movements to give the vertebrae a push in the right direction and allow them to settle themselves into their correct resting position without an adjustment being forced upon them.

The movements are light and fast and more comfortable than a normal manipulation where the adjustment is more strongly enforced. A McTimoney chiropractor also focuses on the pelvis and head as well as the spine and gives postural advice to help the adjustments hold in place. So, if you are anxious about manipulation then you may be more comfortable with this approach.

Case Study: Karen - a positive experience
A number of years after the pain first began, I was still going through the exhausting process that many fellow sufferers will recognise, of going backwards and forwards to doctors for multitudes of tests, with no real results so far. At this point the diagnosis of fibromyalgia was still a long way off; I don't think I had even heard of it.
Chiropractic treatment was suggested, and paid for, by my in-laws who were frustrated on my behalf at the lack of progress. I have to admit to being slightly anxious about the treatment beforehand, having only a sketchy knowledge of it.

I felt at ease straightaway though and despite all the seemingly unnatural clicking and crunching sounds, it didn't hurt at all. The initial consultation was followed by a fairly treatment intensive few weeks. If this helped I would just need top up treatments. After each session I felt an immediate increase in pain and soreness. This would really hit me the next day and last a couple of days, after which it would ease to 'normal' pain. After a few weeks of treatments though, I was aware that there was no improvement in my pain. However, there were some nteresting benefits that I hadn't considered.

I was definitely walking straighter, my posture improved and I felt 'freer' and less stiff.The biggest benefit though was unexpected and particularly welcome. The daily headaches, that I had been waking up with for a very long time, stopped and this continued for as long as I had the treatment. Unfortunately, one of the tests I was having showed I had osteoporosis at quite an advanced stage and I was advised not to continue chiropractic treatment because of this. Otherwise I think I would have been happy to continue occasional sessions.

Case study: Lisa - a negative experience
When the chiropractor looked at me and felt my back, he told me it was typical 'housewife syndrome' of overdoing it. My whole body was like ROCK which affected my posture so much that I couldn't stand straight. He said it had been caused through pushing buggies, carrying the kids around, the pressures of pregnancies and generally overdoing things.

He manipulated my back by getting me to breathe in and then when I breathed out he pushed hard onto my back until I heard a crack. My back ached for days and was painful but I was just glad that I'd been told I was ok, I'd just overdone things. Next a colleague of his manipulated my neck. I got worse after this and I feel these manipulations triggered everything off. I was in so much pain with my neck (which felt like it couldn't hold my head up). I went back and saw someone else who manipulated my neck again.

I spent weeks in agony and my jaw started to stiffen and ache plus my throat got worse and my chest was in pain.  feel the FM kicked in that day and since then I've never been right and the pain has spread. I began with backache, a tense throat and pins and needles; now the pain is all over. The chiropractor never used x-rays or warned me of any bad outcomes. If I had just had nice relaxing massages to help relax my back muscles who knows where I would be today!

Of course, these are just two of the alternative therapies you may consider trying to help you cope with the symptoms of fibromyalgia. There is certainly more to it then being pulled, prodded and cracked and finding a therapist who has a good understanding of fibromyalgia will give you greater confidence. Sometimes it can simply feel good to just be doing something about your health and to feel listened to and cared for by a therapist. Just make sure that you reassess after six months to check that you are progressing and using your resources wisely.

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