Easing Fibromyalgia Shoulder Pain: Symptoms, Relief Strategies, & Management

Are you experiencing shoulder pain after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia? Fibromyalgia shoulder pain is a common symptom but can often be difficult to pinpoint and navigate.

In this article, we will delve into why flare-ups are common in the shoulder, what causes them, and offer solutions to relieve pain. So you can walk away with a deeper understanding on how to manage the symptoms.

Can fibromyalgia cause shoulder pain?

Common fibromyalgia symptoms include widespread chronic pain, brain fog, sleep disturbances, and abdominal pain. One of the areas that can be hit by chronic pain is the shoulder.

Understanding the origins of your fibromyalgia shoulder pain begins with recognizing what it feels like. It's often a wide-reaching soreness that stays with you, a deep ache that doesn't easily go away, or a stiffness that seems to be worse when you wake up in the morning.

What causes fibromyalgia shoulder pain?

This shoulder pain can be caused by one or more factors:

  • heightened sensitivity
  • muscles that are tight and tense
  • tender points that exist inside the shoulder blade.

What do we mean by "heightened sensitivity"? Fibromyalgia syndrome is believed to be caused by a phenomenon called central sensitization. It is like a volume knob turned up too high on the pain response from your central nervous system. This means that even a light touch can feel extremely painful.

Knots & tenderness around the shoulder blades

Picture your shoulder blades as part of a tree, where instead of smooth bark, there are knots that can grow and spread up towards your neck, causing pain and making it hard to move. it might also keep you in an uncomfortable posture or position.

Other causes of shoulder pain

While fibromyalgia can certainly cause shoulder pain, it's important to consider other possibilities. Sometimes, other conditions affecting muscles and joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis1 or myofascial pain, can occur alongside fibromyalgia2.

Other common reasons for shoulder pain:

  • bone spurs
  • bursitis – when a small sac in your shoulder that's filled with fluid gets inflamed, making movement less smooth
  • fracture
  • dislocated shoulder
  • shoulder separation – when the parts of the shoulder don't line up correctly
  • frozen shoulder – when the tendons and muscles in your shoulder are very stiff and movement becomes difficult and painful
  • overuse or injury of nearby tendons
  • nerve damage
  • rotator cuff tear
  • poor posture.

Although you might know the cause of your pain, speaking to your healthcare professional is the best option for getting to the root of the pain.

How is fibromyalgia shoulder pain diagnosed?

When you visit a doctor for a fibromyalgia diagnosis, they will carefully examine the pain in specific parts of your body, including the shoulders. They will also talk to you about other symptoms that you might experience, such as fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, mood disturbances, brain fog, and any of the other many varied fibromyalgia symptoms that can exist.

Different physical examinations and tests, such as scans or blood work, can help to distinguish between fibromyalgia pain and other causes of pain, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. These detailed checks will help your doctor to get the right diagnosis and treatment plan for you.

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How to relieve fibromyalgia shoulder pain?

Adopting certain lifestyle changes such as engaging in gentle exercises, enhancing sleep quality, managing stress effectively, and maintaining a nutritious diet can make the management of chronic widespread pain a more attainable goal for people with fibromyalgia.

Physical therapy & exercise

Engaging in physical therapy and regular exercise is crucial for managing fibromyalgia effectively. Incorporating activities such as low-impact aerobics and strength training can help reduce pain and improve mood. Exercise boosts energy and can alleviate some of the chronic discomfort associated with fibromyalgia.

Starting with light, enjoyable exercises and gradually increasing the intensity is key for a beneficial exercise regimen. A physical therapist can guide you safely into an exercise routine, offer education on fibromyalgia, demonstrate hands-on therapy techniques, and recommend individual exercises such as swimming or gentle yoga.

Balance is vital. While maintaining activity is important, it's equally necessary to heed your body's signals and not push beyond its limits.

Medication as an enabler

Medication represents just a piece of the broader pain relief puzzle, which should also encompass educational, lifestyle, and psychological elements.

Typical options for medication include:

  • over-the-counter analgesics such as acetaminophen and naproxen
  • muscle relaxants, such as cyclobenzaprine
  • antidepressants, including sertraline and fluoxetine
  • specialized pain relief drugs, for example, Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)
  • anticonvulsant drugs that may also alleviate nerve pain, such as topiramate and carbamazepine.

Retraining your pain response

Understanding and retraining the brain's perception of pain is a complex but essential task. It requires identifying the root causes of discomfort, including stress and habitual thought patterns. Recognizing these elements allows for the application of neuroplasticity techniques, aimed at altering the brain's reaction to pain. Consistently practicing these techniques is key to rewiring the neural pathways that interpret pain.

Managing stress

As someone living with fibromyalgia, stress management is very important because stress can worsen your sensitivity to pain. There are many ways to manage stress effectively. Techniques such as CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy – can help you develop healthier thought patterns. Mindfulness practices can also help you focus on the present moment and promote calmness. Sharing your experiences with others, through friends, therapy, or support groups, can provide emotional comfort and a sense of community.

Sleep quality

Quality sleep is essential for managing fibromyalgia, serving as the cornerstone of your daily wellbeing. Many people with fibromyalgia struggle with achieving restorative sleep3, which is vital for symptom improvement.

Consider these strategies to enhance your sleep:

  • Aim for approximately eight hours of sleep each night, and maintain a consistent bedtime.
  • Limit naps to ensure they do not interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • Daytime physical activity can promote fatigue, preparing your body for rest in the evening.
  • Disconnect from electronic devices prior to bedtime to allow your mind to unwind.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment: dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Monitor caffeine intake, particularly in the latter part of the day, to avoid sleep disturbances.
  • Avoid large meals and alcohol before bedtime, as they can disrupt sleep.
  • Engage in relaxing activities before bed to improve sleep quality and aid in managing fibromyalgia symptoms.

Dietary & supplement considerations for fibromyalgia patients

A healthy diet can make a big difference in managing your fibromyalgia. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are rich in nutrients that can help reduce inflammation. It's also wise to limit foods that can worsen inflammation, such as those high in added sugars, gluten, and unhealthy fats.

Exploring dietary approaches that reduce carbohydrates or follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet may help alleviate some symptoms4.

More information

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