girl rubbing her head

Chronic Pain Syndrome vs Fibromyalgia

Awakenings Treatment Center commonly works with chronic pain patients to help them lead happier, healthier lives. Sadly, this population is largely misunderstood, and the lack of awareness, support and treatment options can lead them down a path of self-medicating with prescription medications, illicit drugs and alcohol. Thankfully, our treatment center offers hope and healing for those living with chronic pain. 

A common question we often hear from clients and loved ones is what is the difference between chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia. Do they have the same symptoms? Do they respond to similar treatments? How can you tell one from the other? We will address these questions below.

What is Chronic Pain Syndrome? 

Most pain goes away after an illness or injury runs its course. But with chronic pain syndrome, the pain can last for months or years. Usually, there is a reason why the pain started, though it can also stem from nothing in particular. This makes the condition difficult to understand and treat. 

Over time, chronic pain takes a toll on your mental and physical health. There are usually periods where you’ll feel better and periods where you’ll feel worse. 

Symptoms of chronic pain syndrome are: 

  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Burning pain 
  • Mood swings 

What is Fibromyalgia? 

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. In some cases, the pain starts with an illness or injury like an infection or surgical procedure. However, fibromyalgia often begins with no known cause. Many people with fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, anxiety, depression, digestive issues and TMJ disorders. 

Like chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia is a difficult condition to understand and treat. Researchers believe that repeated nerve stimulation causes the brain to change. As a result, the brain’s pain receptors become highly sensitive and sense pain from things that are not normally painful. 

While there is no known cause for fibromyalgia, researchers have found some links. For example, people who have had certain infections or have gone through extreme physical or emotional trauma are at a higher risk for developing fibromyalgia. The disorder also runs in families, which suggests there may be certain gene mutations that make people more susceptible. 

The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are: 

  • Widespread pain
  • Fatigue 
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Cognitive difficulties 

What’s the Difference between Chronic Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia? 

Even though the symptoms overlap, chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia are two different disorders. With chronic pain syndrome, there is usually an identifiable trigger such as arthritis or an injury. 

Fibromyalgia, on the other hand, often arises without a cause. If you took an x-ray of your body, the doctors wouldn’t find tissue or nerve damage as they might with chronic pain syndrome. Ironically, chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia often co-exist together. If fibromyalgia pain continues, it can lead to chronic pain syndrome. 

girl curled up in pain

How are Chronic Pain Disorders Diagnosed? 

It’s very important to see your doctor if symptoms of pain do not have a cause or do not go away on their own. While pain disorders can be difficult to understand, we know more today than ever before. With a proper diagnosis, you can move forward with an effective treatment plan that relieves your symptoms and improves your quality of life. 

Your doctor will start off by asking questions like: 

  • When did the pain start? 
  • What does the pain feel like? 
  • Where is the pain located? 
  • Does anything make the pain better or worse? 

Because certain illnesses and injuries can lead to chronic pain syndrome, your doctor will probably order imaging tests to look for joint or tissue damage. If the doctor can identify the source of your pain, you can be successfully treated. However, the source of pain is not always identifiable. But, don’t let doctors tell you that it’s “all in your head.” Continue looking for a doctor who is compassionate to your needs. 

In terms of fibromyalgia, doctors used to use an 18-point system to diagnose the condition. This is no longer needed. Usually, fibro is diagnosed when a person has had widespread pain for more than three months. Your doctor may also rule out other conditions through lab work. 

What Treatments Work Best for Chronic Pain? 

There is no magic bullet pill or formula for treating chronic pain syndrome or fibromyalgia. Treatment usually includes medication and self-care. This is why more people are turning to alternative forms of treatment like the ones offered at Awakenings. We provide hope and healing for all clients, including those battling other conditions like eating disorders, mental illness or substance abuse. Unfortunately, these disorders often go hand-in-hand with chronic pain conditions. 

Chronic pain disorders are usually not curable, but they are treatable. Here are some of the best ways to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life: 

  • Medications. These include anti-inflammatories, steroids and antidepressants. Some doctors prescribe opioids and muscle relaxers, but we recommend these only as a last resort. They are addictive, and opioids can actually worsen pain. 
  • Behavioral therapy. Some therapies can have a positive impact on your mood. For example, cognitive behavior therapy is a type of talk therapy that helps you reframe negative thinking. 
  • Biofeedback. Biofeedback can be incredibly effective in reducing muscle tension and depression and improving your ability to cope with chronic pain. It works by teaching you how to control your body’s response to pain. 
  • Alternative therapies. Alternative treatments like massage therapy, acupuncture and yoga can relax the muscles, encourage deep sleep, decrease anxiety and increase mindfulness. All of this helps with managing pain. 

Tips for Coping with Chronic Pain

Dealing with pain day in and day out is exhausting. It’s hard to remain positive when you’re in this state. But, there are ways to cope with chronic pain, and you’ll want to follow them closely. Emotional pain can make physical pain worse, which is why it’s important to keep a positive outlook as you navigate this new life. 

Here are some of the best tips we have for chronic pain clients. 

  • Build a support network. Not everyone will understand (or want to understand) your pain. Don’t get caught up in trying to make them understand. Use this energy to build a strong support network that includes compassionate people from your treatment center or support groups. 
  • Focus on what’s positive in your life. This is a common practice for people in substance abuse treatment. We recommend making a daily list of the things you have to be thankful for. 
  • Seek counseling. Many people benefit from counseling. These sessions allow you to share your frustrations, work through negative thoughts and feelings and build strong coping mechanisms. 
  • Join a support group. There are support groups out there that will connect you with others going through similar struggles. It helps to know that you are not alone. 
  • Keep busy with hobbies and activities. Find hobbies and activities that make you happy, teach you new skills and pass the time. If you’re not an artsy person, consider donating your time to a good cause. 
  • Stay active. Keeping physically active increases feel-good chemicals in the body, boosts energy levels and improves flexibility. It’s one of the best ways to fight stress, fatigue and muscle tension. Choose low-impact exercises like swimming or walking. 

What Awakenings Has to Offer People with Chronic Pain

Awakenings treats individuals with chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia and other pain conditions. We have a wide range of treatment options that include counseling, holistic healing and peer support. 

Many of our clients come to us when they have exhausted other options and are now dependent on prescription medications and illicit substances to get them through their day. However, you don’t have to wait for this time to come. You can get help now and start living a better life. 

Drugs and alcohol provide temporary relief and prevent you from exploring emotional pain. We often find that people with chronic pain have a history of childhood trauma. If this trauma is not resolved, it can live in the body and manifest in different ways. By seeking care at our facility, we can help you understand your pain, how to relieve symptoms using safe, natural practices and stop the cycle of prescription opioid abuse. 

Contact Awakenings today to learn more about our approach to treating people with chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia and other conditions.