Have you noticed that we fibromyalgia people have our own lexicon for what we experience? We’re called fibro folk, fibromites, spoonies or other names. We live in our own fibro worlds and share our circumstances with our fibro friends. Whatever we happen to forget is caused by fibro fog and then there’s the ever-evolving topic of fibro flares ….
Does anyone else out there have fibro flares, or is that just me?
Oh yeah. We all do.
What differs for each of us is the cause, the duration, and the intensity of our flares. Today’s article will focus on the topic of “the cause.”
That’s a misnomer already. If there’s anything that you remember from this article (despite the waxing and waning fibro fog) I hope that you grasp that there is no ONE single cause of a flare (or even of fibromyalgia in the first place). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Here’s a simple demonstration of a fibro flare:
You wake up with a crick in your neck that’s worse than whatever you term your “daily normal stiffness quotient.” You go through the rigmarole of getting ready for the day and feel a dull headache coming on. You vaguely wonder if there’s a weather change afoot. When you’re fixing breakfast and reach up into a cupboard, that crick in your neck becomes more of a small lightning bolt. It now radiates down your back, shoulder, and through your chest. You start to feel a bit woozy. You say to yourself, “Oh, here it comes….”
You quickly flip through your agenda for the day in your head. You filter out the non-essential tasks from those that are absolutely essential. You whittle everything down to the bare minimum. You’ve now prepared yourself to have a “flare day.”
You’re oh-so familiar with your flares. You recognize one when it’s headed your way. You can’t say it’s a friend, but it’s definitely an old acquaintance.
But what ARE flares? And, what brings them on?
First of all, it’s F-L-A-R-E and not “flair” (the latter describes something much more fun).
A flare of symptoms (a fibro flare, specifically), is an accumulation or a cascade effect of aches, pains, spasms, imbalances, and overall systemic disturbances. A flare is an unplanned hurricane of symptoms. Of course, some flares are more like thundershowers than hurricanes, but the fact that they “rain” on our plans is universal.
When I see a client who mentions a recent flare, I ask her to go along with me on a symptom archeological dig. We determine when the accumulation of symptoms first occurred. We speculate on what was going on at the time. I often ask questions that clients feel are completely unrelated, but I ask for patience. You see, there are many not-so-obvious factors that can contribute to a flare.
Here are a few common causes that come to mind:
A recent fall, stumble, or startle to the body (even minor events)
A recent injury whether major or minor
Recent changes in prescribed medications
Recent changes in over-the-counter medications
Weather-related changes (yes, some studies state this is hooey while others state it as fact. I don’t care. I feel physical changes with barometric weather changes as do my clients, relatives, and fibro friends)
Recent doctor’s visits (including MDs, physical therapists, dentists, etc.!)
Recent travel (air, bus, train, car, etc.)
A recent change in sleep patterns (too little, too much, changed location/pillows, etc.)
Other physical changes
Here are some that may take a bit of increased awareness:
Recent changes/additions in hormone medications, creams, supplements, etc.
Eating foods that don’t “agree” with you and your nutrition type
Recent changes in diet/nutrition
Lack of fitness routines (a sedentary lifestyle leaves the body vulnerable to muscle pulls, pinched nerves, spinal alignment issues, etc.)
Recent cold, flu, or infections especially when connected to taking a course of antibiotics
A recent upsetting “discussion” or disagreement with a close family member, co-worker, or friend
A recent personal discovery or revelation that feels overwhelming, saddening, or devastating, (i.e. finding out that your child who planned to attend a local college, now plans to attend school out of state, or, obviously, something worse)
Any negative, unhealthy, cyclical, critical, judgmental thoughts about yourself and others
Recent external toxic exposures (to pesticides, carpet cleaners, air fresheners, candles, scented laundry products, perfumed items, hair and skin care products, remodeling supplies [i.e., paint, varnish, adhesives, etc.]), etc.
Recent internal toxic exposures to chemicals found in packaged and processed foods, drinks, pharmaceuticals, over the counter medications, dental work, immunizations, and more
Additionally, here are chronic versions of issues that can build like tinder just waiting to flare:
Chronic generalized worries, stress, anxiety
Chronic relationship issues and worries
Chronic financial issues and worries
Chronic concerns and fears of future health and/or disability issues
Any fear or worry that escalates into a chronic state
Anything that has the potential to worsen symptoms,
can provide the catalyst to a fibromyalgia flare.
Here’s a more detailed illustration of how a flare can happen.
Faye is a 43 year old woman with fibromyalgia. Faye has recently changed her position at work to one that requires less travel. She was no longer able to “handle” the constant shuffling from rental car companies to airports to hotels.
Faye is frustrated by her physical limitations and made the job decision by default rather than by choice. Thinking about these frustrations, she packs up her office late on a Friday night after everyone has gone home so she can be alone. Her new job is on a lower floor of her building – not to mention at a lower pay. She’ll have to move into the new office on Monday morning. She puts her few personal possessions into a small box and only packs what fits inside. She carries it under one arm as she hurries to the elevator.
Across her office parking lot, she tiptoes through seeping mud-filled puddles and regrets leaving her large umbrella in the office. When she gets to her car, she avoids putting the box down onto the wet blacktop to locate her keys, and instead balances it along with her purse and a book bag. She successfully fishes her keys from her purse and while swinging her car door open, she loses her grip on everything. Gritting her teeth, she watches the box, its contents, her purse, and her books fall onto the filthy, soaked ground.
By the time she’s collected her things and climbed into her car, she’s soaking wet and in pain. Her anger and frustrations fuel her thoughts all the way home. She walks into her small apartment and is too upset to do anything but turn on the TV for distraction. The achiness in her back, neck, and shoulders increases. Her muscles stiffen. Her knees, hips and wrists are sore from crawling around on the parking lot. She knows that a flare is imminent. She mutters to herself, “Oh, here it comes … and this one’s gonna be a doozy.”
Can you relate?
Of course, for illustration purposes, this story combines multiple “flare factors.” Faye had definite physical injuries and potential impairments of muscles, joints, and surface abrasions. She was probably achy already from the rain. On the emotional side of things, her fears and worries included money, career, job security, embarrassment, anxiety over loss of physical mobility, self-identity changes, isolation, relationship issues, and more.
While this may be an exaggerated depiction, remember this –
A fibro flare is never “caused” by just one thing.
A set of circumstances throws a flare into action.
So, the next time that you’re in a flare, or if you think back to a recent flare, go beyond the obvious. Besides the injury, think about what was going on in your thoughts at the time. Were you frustrated, angry, or upset?
Understanding the connection between all of these factors gives YOU the power to better predict as well as manage your flares.
What combination of flare factors affects you the most?
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia writer for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
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