The definition of the word “fibromyalgia” is: Fibro/fiber, my/muscle, algia/pain….so it means “pain in a muscle fiber.” Yet, several doctors have told me that the medical world looks at the definition as “pain from an unknown source.” Of course, this makes sense when you hear other things these same physicians told me.
In 1999 one Internal Medicine doctor that I have great respect for, Zev Cohen, MD, had a long discussion with me about trigger points (spasms) because he didn’t believe that spasms could cause so many problems. “After all,” he told me, “if they were important I would have learned about them in medical school, and after 14 years of being a doctor I’ve never heard the term.” We spoke for a long time, hours actually, and I had brought back-up with me – two research books titled Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The Trigger Point Manual. by Drs. Janet Travell and David Simons. Doctor Travell had been doing massive research on the topic for decades before she joined up with Dr. Simons and they eventually publishing the manuals in 1983. In fact, the original idea of trigger points started back in the late 1890’s, so even by the time Dr. Travell and found it, it was well-established. However, even with all this evidence Dr. Travell was ridiculed and ignored by most people in the medical field. Why?
While their work is well-known in the massage world, it is still much of a mystery in the medical world. The odds are your doctor won’t know of it if you ask him/her, and if s/he does, then you have a physician who is determined to look at every avenue to help his/her patients. Congratulations on your find!
Dr. Cohen is one of those doctors. He looked through the two manuals, and we spoke about pain throughout the body and looked at the chapters in the book that covered that part of the body. He was amazed! He ultimately said to me “How could this be! Clearly a great many of the people who come into my office fit into this category. How could I not have been taught this!” That began a new direction for Dr. Cohen’s medical practice, one that he continues to this day!
So, getting back to fibromyalgia, let’s talk a moment about trigger points (I’ll do my best to not get technical) so you have an understanding why they will cause pain throughout the body.
A trigger point (also called “spasm”) is a knot in the muscle fibers. The most common cause for a trigger point to develop is repetitive strain. Repetitive strain means the muscle has been contracting and releasing over and over, most likely either in rapid repeating movements (like typing on a computer for many hours), or the muscle was shortened by a contraction and then held in that position for an extended period of time (like sitting in a chair for many hours). These two situations will cause the muscle fibers to shorten, but they are still connected to points A & B.
For example, let’s start with typing. The muscles that move your fingers up and down are actually located in your forearm. Sit with your hands flat on a table for this demonstration. Your extensor muscles are on the top of your forearm and they lift your fingers up off the table. Now, have your hand off the table…when you contract your flexors on the underside of your forearm, your hand points down toward the floor. If the flexors continue to contract you will eventually roll your hand into a fist.
The analogy I always use is, if you pull your hair with your hand, your scalp will hurt and you can’t turn in the opposite direction. But you don’t need to massage your scalp, you don’t need pain medication for the headache, and you certainly don’t need brain surgery…you just need to release your hair!” It’s the same with joint pain. Your muscle (hand) pulls on your tendon (hair) and that pulls on the insertion point at the joint (scalp). If the muscle is pulling hard and tied into a knot (spasm) which is shortening it and preventing it from releasing, you can’t move the joint and you feel pain. In fact, the pain feels very much like how your scalp feels when you are pulling your hair too hard.
Some people jump right into trying to stretch, and this definitely doesn’t help the muscles. You may be able to get them to lengthen for a little while, but they will soon shorten again and you’re back in the same situation.
The analogy I use for this is; if you take a line that is 12″ long and then tie enough knots in it so it is 11″ long, what would happen if you tried to stretch it back to 12″ again? You can see that the knots would get tighter and the fibers on either side of the knot would get overstretched. This also happens in the body, except with muscles it’s putting a great strain on the insertion points on the two bones, and the fibers will eventually tear as you do this over and over. You need to first release the knots and then you can stretch.
I’ve been teaching people how to self-treat the spasms since 1989 and I’ve written several books and DVDs, as well as websites that explain what is happening and how to reverse it. I’m a muscular therapist, but I don’t want you coming to see me because if you are doing a repetitive movement it will come back. If you learn how to self-treat you can release the tension whenever you know you’ve done something for an extended period of time (work at your computer, ride a bike, play the piano or tennis) and you can eliminate the problem before you even feel it in your joints.
I’m constantly telling people not to stretch muscles that are in spasm, but when you have already untied the knots you are now you are ready to stretch safely. For years I’ve wanted to join with a yoga teacher because I would see people doing yoga and tearing muscles, then giving up on yoga because it hurt worse after their yoga session than it did before they went to class.
I’m happy to say that this goal was reached because I met Ana Johnson. Actually for quite a while I didn’t really “meet” Ana, we worked via my book and the telephone, until we realized we both wanted the same thing – we wanted to help people benefit from yoga stretching without getting hurt.
That will definitely help anyone who has fibromyalgia because you don’t need to do anything that could possibly cause more injury to your muscles. By doing the Julstro self-treatments first, and then doing the yoga stretches taught by Ana in TriggerPoint Yoga, you will release the tension that is being placed on your joints. You can chat with Ana, and me, by going to our Facebook page. We love meeting with people this way.
This message ended up being really long so I’ll stop now, but if you’d like to read about a woman who had fibromyalgia for 27 years, 14 of those years confined to a chair (!!) you can go to a previous blog post that I wrote on October 14, 2011, titled Fibromyalgia and Self-Treatment.
I hope you’ll share this blog post with anyone you know who may be suffering from fibromyalgia. The odds are very slim that they will ever be told that muscles can be a cause of their suffering, or that releasing the tension in the muscles could give them relief.
Wishing you well,