By Adrienne Dellwo
Fibromyalgia pain isn’t caused by obvious sources. Our muscles and connective tissues show no signs of degeneration. Our bones and joints are as healthy as anyone’s. Pain without damage is hard to understand and treat, and that’s much of the reason that for decades fibromites were told the pain was all in their heads. But as researchers looked to the head — the brain, more specifically — they started uncovering more about our pain.
Instead of being in the mind (psychological), it’s in the brain (neurological).
The highly respected website UpToDate, a resource trusted by physicians as well as patients who want in-depth information, delves into the neurological abnormalities of fibromyalgia (FM or FMS).
“Some differences in pain processing that may be important in pathogenesis include the following:
- Upregulation of opioid receptors in the periphery, as well as reduced brain opioid receptors.
- Elevated levels of substance P were found in the cerebrospinal fluid of FMS patients compared to controls.
- Differences in activation of pain-sensitive areas of the brain, as determined by increased regional brain blood flow using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and functional MRI (fMRI), and MR spectroscopy have been noted in FMS.”
Fibromyalgia Pain & Your Brain
So what do all those medical terms mean? Let’s break it down:
Opioid receptors are specialized parts of cells that bind to opiates — pain killers contained in Vicodin (hydrocodone) and Percocet (oxycodone).
The periphery in this case is the parts of your nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord.
“Upregulation” means increased numbers of opioid receptors.
Upregulation of peripheral opioid receptors is common in damaged or inflamed tissues, neuropathy, or bone damage. In some cases, this upregulation is believed to help opiates work.