“The foot holds many clues to solving the riddle of fibromyalgia pain.”
–Dr. Howard G. Grossell, Author of East Meets West From The Bottom Up

 

Fibromyalgia, as the name of a condition, has many faces. There are the commonly listed associated symptoms, a myriad of theories and research findings, volumesof written information and yet it is largely a misunderstood and as yet, unsolvable, ‘invisible illness’.

 

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a syndrome (a collection of symptoms), estimated to affect millions of Americans that is characterized by widespread amplified pain in the body and multiple system imbalances. Controversy has surrounded FM that essentially lacks a medically defined cause and diagnostic medical tests. The previous criteria for a diagnosis was a model of tender points in the body. A revised fibromyaligia questionaire, called the FIQR has been adopted to more fully understand the emotional and psychological elements of fibromyalgia.

 

Associated symptoms can include fatigue, depression, sleep problems, gastrointestinal distress, poor concentration, poor circulation, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, headaches, deprivation of deep relaxation, ‘brain fog’ and many more. The primary complaint is chronic pain and the key issue is why do these people  have so much pain.

 

People with chronic pain frequently see many practitioners in their quest for relief from their symptoms. Unfortunately, this quest can resemble the story of the six blind men, each placed at a different part of the body of an elephant and then asked to describe the elephant. Or the adage, ‘when one’s primary tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. So each provider can have a different explanation of the problem as they see it and present their own magic bullet. The primary approach by conventional medicine for the treatment of fibromyalgia pain and other symptoms is medications. Unfortunately, the secondary concerns are the alarming side affects.

 

It’s no wonder that patients and clients are frustrated and that practitioners are confused seeking to understand a condition without a clear cause or origin, no definitive medical tests, controversial criteria for diagnosis and as many treatment options, drugs and opinions as there are symptoms.

 

As a Reflexologist who specializes in pain management, I’ve worked with FM clients for ten years and used reflexology successfully to manage and eliminate their pain with resulting improvement in FM symptoms. My clients were my best teachers to learn the real story to this condition. As I studied and researched FM, my techniques became grounded in the understanding of the body’s way of communicating PAIN. With FM this body function is compromised and is in a sympathethically maintained pain syndrome. This of course impairs organs, glands and systems (Dr. Manual Lavin). What is reflexology known for?

The research of several doctors became the basis for my reflexology approach for pain relief with FM clients. I simply banked on the research and knowledge that signals to the nervous system cause the pain experience and that I knew the feet held the key to breaking that pain-cycle. Of course, I focused on the most potent reflexes in the feet to dialogue with the nervous system.

 

Dr. Robert Bennett, M.D. of the Oregon FM Foundation states that pain is the overriding problem for most FM patients and that many other problems are secondary results of relenting chronic pain. When pain is even partially relieved, significant improvement occurs emotionally and mentally, and sleep and function improve.

 

Researchers Dr. Roland Staud, MD, from the University of Florida and Dr. Manuel Martinez-Lavin, MD, from the National Cardiology Institute of Mexico, explain the pain of fibromyalgia and point to the nervous system and the sympathetic autonomic branch (ANS). They say that a fibromyalgia patients’ sympathetic nervous system is persistently hyperactive, but hypo-reactive to stress and this explains all FM features, including sleep disorders and hormonal abnormalities in FM.

 

Dr. Jesus Manzanares, M.D. and researcher from Barcelona has validated the central nervous system’s role in the process of reflexology. Stimulation of reflexes (nociceptor neurons) in the feet and hands trigger positive physiological changes in the body, making foot reflexology an effective and gentle touch therapy for fibromyalgia. Manzanares’ EEG studies show that reflexology induces Theta brain waves and the parasympathetic response.

 

This NS response helps to break the pain cycle that leads to muscle tension, reduced circulation, pressure on nerves, stiffness and more pain. C.S. Lewis said, “Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of Nature.” As we work with the natural laws and inclination of the body to heal, we realize the intelligence of the body and that the laws of Nature will always hold us accountable, according to how we care for the body/mind.

  

 

As above, so below. What can we observe in the shape and structure of a typical ‘fibromyalgia foot’? Not evident in every case of fibromyalgia, but watch for patterns of stress in the feet and how the foot has adapted or moved ‘out of balance’ as a result of chronic pain.

 

A common shape of a FM foot is a broader forefoot and narrow heel; space between toes 1 & 2 and a callous formation may exist at the diaphragm line. Myofascial trigger points are prevalent in the FM foot and are often mistaken as tender reflex areas. These need to be addressed and can result from poor foot biomechanics or postural compensation.

 

Poor foot biomechanics is a main root cause of latent pain in fibromyalgia, according to Dr. Howard Groshell, Podiatrist, who specializes in treating FM. Postural pain (pain all over the body) often begins in the foot. When the foot is out of balance, anything above that unbalanced foot will be out of balance as well and the whole body becomes stressed. For this reason, I often do a gait and postural analysis on my FM clients to have a baseline for tracking progress, both in the feet, posture and pain levels.

 

There are clearly many dynamics involved in the health care of the fibromyalgia client. Healthy lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, healthy mental/emotional life choices are all areas to be addressed in the multi-disciplinary approach that is needed. The FM client also needs a team of providers working together to address the whole person, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.

 

Reflexologists can be an effective and valuable member of that team and make a difference in fibromyalgia clients’ lives. Understanding the unpredictability of the FM clients’ pain patterns versus the common chronic pain of the average client is essential. Intake and assessment skills are needed to understand the individual’s needs and to plan an effective session approach. No two clients will present with the same symptoms. The more you understand this “multiple-systems syndrome”, the more effective your client-outcomes and long term resolutions.

 

In closing, the feet really do hold clues to impacting the FM client. The hallmark of reflexology and most commonly reported benefits are pain reduction and sleep improvement. Those two results can have immediate effect on the chronic pain body. From there, it just gets better.

 

 

Resources

East Meets West From the Bottom UP, Dr. Howard Groshell
The Complete Guide to Reflexology, Kevin Kunz
Principles of Reflexology, Dr. Jesus Manzanares
Fibromyalgia Frontiers (Vol.10, #3, 2002) Journal of National FM Partnership  The Fibromyalgia Label: Creating an Illness    

 

Linda Chollar, AAEd, has been a Fibromyalgia advocate for two decades, including teaching, writing and lecturing on reflexology through the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA), fibromyalgia support groups, TV & radio. A Reflexologist for 20 years, she serves on the ACARET Board of Directors as President and is a business coach to Reflexologists. For an instant dowload of her CE webinar: “Understanding Fibromyalgia for Professionals” visit: http://www.ReflexologyMentor.com

Filed under: Fibromyalgia

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