In an ideal world, my wonderful Osteopath would be my primary carer. All of my Doctor’s notes would be filtered through him and he would tell them the best course of action to keep me as healthy as possible. He was the only one who believed my symptoms when everybody else was ushering me out of their offices. He was the only one who kept my right shoulder mobile (and diagnosed the problem correctly) when others tried to tell me that the pain was a result of a mood disorder. And he truly is the sole person responsible for keeping me out of a wheelchair. But what I didn’t realise until recently was that Osteopathy could be the key to keeping many of the Fibromyalgia symptoms in check.
I experienced something of a revelation at my second to last treatment session. Because so much of the last 15 months, or so, had been spent on keeping my right shoulder mobilised, I found myself completely ignoring my spine. My initial visit to Martin, all those years ago, was due to excruciating pain in my lower back, that had left me barely able to walk. It had started, like so many of these things do, as a ‘soreness’ in the lumbar region that I assumed would correct itself with the right amount of yogic stretching. Needless to say, it didn’t.
Everything came to a head the day I was sent home from work, after a morning of lifting sent my back into a spasm of monumental proportions. Fortunately for me, this occurred on a bank holiday, so my husband was available to take me home in the car, but I still remember so clearly just how terrified I was at the idea that my back was permanently destroyed. Knowing full well that I couldn’t afford (both physically and psychologically) to languish on a waiting list after a GP consultation, I headed straight towards a private practice, and that was when I met one of the few medical professionals that I have complete trust in.
What he discovered that day was that the muscles surrounding the inflamed area had tightened so much, in their attempt to protect the area, that they had pulled my spine out of place: effectively giving me a form of scoliosis. I regained a vast amount of my mobility after that first session alone and knew instantly that I was at the beginning of a highly valued relationship.
Whenever I feel as though other medical staff have given me the ‘runaround’ or have been withholding information, my Osteopath is the person I turn to with my concerns; and I wish I had a picture of the look of incredulity he had on his face when I told him that the GP dismissed my shoulder issues as being stress related…
the diagonal slope of my shoulders had become so pronounced that my wonky stance was clearly noticeable to other people
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and all the neglect I had foisted upon my decrepit old back, in favour of having two working arms, had finally caught up with me. I had been suffering from what I like to refer to as a ‘slow ache’ in the region where the original problem had started. It was nothing debilitating, just a constant, low-level pain that stood as a reminder that something was ’off’. Two things made me realise that I couldn’t risk making my back wait until my unruly shoulder had given up the limelight. Firstly, the diagonal slope of my shoulders had become so pronounced that my wonky stance was clearly noticeable to other people. Secondly, I’d had a weekend of intense roller skating where a portion of the route was distressingly uphill; my rather weak core muscles (don’t worry, I’m working on that) left almost all of the hard work for my unlucky back. That ‘slow ache’ was on a fast track to becoming ‘screaming agony’.
I had an appointment already booked (because this was the only way any work was getting done on my frozen shoulder) and I stated as soon as I crossed the threshold that my spine had to take priority. The problem was spotted the moment he examined my back, and the work began immediately on my contorted spinal column. After some seriously vigorous massage to loosen up the tight muscles and break up any knots, my spine was manipulated back into its proper position. From the moment I climbed off the couch, I knew something momentous had occurred. For the first time in an absolute age, I went from being horizontal to vertical without the customary dizziness.
I felt as though as breeze had blown through my brain, clearing out all the dust and cobwebs
Soon after, whilst walking to the bus-stop, I noticed that my body felt physically lighter; almost as though I had been inadvertently carrying a rucksack full of rocks and Martin had finally taken it off my back. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to have complete control over my limbs, and not having to fight in order to get my legs to go where I wanted them to felt close to miraculous. I was finally walking in a straight line instead of looking as though I’d had a liquid lunch. But perhaps, most importantly, I felt as though as breeze had blown through my brain, clearing out all the dust, cobwebs and anything else that may have been robbing me of my mental clarity.
Now, proper bodywork treatments always leave me sleepy, and I was in no mind to deny my body the rest it needed to process all the shifts that had taken place in the muscular-skeletal system. However, when I awoke from my daytime nap, I could feel that the benefits were still manifesting. I was still tired (hell, I’m always tired!) but the level of fatigue had shifted, granting me more energy than I had expected to be experiencing: and my bladder, which had been behaving like an absolute diva, finally decided that I no longer needed to go to the bathroom every 20 to 30 minutes.
I wasn’t foolish enough to think “I’m cured!” and go skipping off into the sunset, but I knew that I was looking at a direct correlation between the reduction in my symptoms and the Osteopathy treatment. Feeling both excited and curious, I took to the internet to discover if anybody else had looked into spinal manipulation as a way of treating Fibromyalgia. It really should not have been such a big surprise to discover that many, many health practitioners (mainly chiropractors) had been saying the exact same thing I had been thinking, for years. To be fair, I should have made the connection myself the moment I read about the neurological roots of Fibromyalgia – I’m chalking up the serious lack of dot-joining to a combination of befuddled thinking and trying to juggle so many different doctors and treatments… In any case, even if the double blind studies are not there (they don’t exist for CBT either, and that’s still the go-to therapy for complex pain conditions) the science itself is still sound: anything that puts pressure on the spinal cord will undoubtedly affect the entire central nervous system.
Swelling caused by vertebral inflammation may encroach upon spinal nerves and blood vessels as they exit the spinal cord through openings on either side of your spine. These spinal nerves supply all parts of your body with vital information for control and regulation of all your body’s organs, systems and functions.
Not knowing how long the feeling of relative wellness was going to last, I tried my level best to utilise my body’s re-discovered responsiveness, and I had a few very enjoyable days where I didn’t feel as though I’d been hit by a steamroller. But by the end of the first week after the treatment, I could feel the symptoms creeping back in and, lo and behold, by my next appointment my spine had forgotten what shape it was supposed to be in and had to be corrected. If this has occurred again by my next appointment, I will make sure to have a chat with my Osteopath about possible underlying issues with my connective tissues. As always, he will be my first port of call.
I know that Fibromyalgia is a very complex and highly individual condition and what works for me may well not work for somebody else. I’m lucky enough to have my touch hypersensitivity manifest as extreme ticklishness (not as fun as it sounds, but better than having everything register as pain), so a treatment as zesty as Osteopathy doesn’t trouble me too much; but I can understand that for many sufferers the deep tissue massage and spinal ‘cracking’ could feel like a copious amount of physical torture. But I still believe that doctors should be looking at overall spinal health as part of a full treatment package, particularly as they now know that neurotransmitters play such a huge part in creating the expressions of Fibromyalgia Syndrome.