By Brent Wells, DC, a chiropractor and founder of Better Health Chiropractic in Anchorage
If your child feels tired and achy, you may not worry initially. After all, there’s nothing urgent about what seems to be mild, general discomfort. However, if your child is constantly in pain, exhausted, having trouble sleeping, and experiencing intense moods, he/she may have fibromyalgia.
This condition is fairly common in adults, but parents and clinicians may overlook the possibility of juvenile primary fibromyalgia syndrome — that is, fibromyalgia in children.
Juvenile fibromyalgia symptoms to watch out for
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by pain and fatigue. According to experts, children will often describe this pain as “stiffness, tightness, tenderness, burning or aching.” This pain can last for months and is often accompanied by other sympt
oms that affect a child’s overall well-being, energy level, and emotional health, including:
- Tender spots on muscles
- Difficulty sleeping and fatigue
- Aches, including stomachaches and headaches
- Lack of focus or memory
- Anxiety and depression
If your child is experiencing these symptoms, you should see a doctor. There’s not one test to confirm it, so he/she will go through a range of tests to rule out other conditions.
Unfortunately, there is no one “cure” for fibromyalgia, which can be frustrating for patients, especially children. If left untreated, symptoms can lead to issues at school or making friends. Many parents describe this as a “vicious cycle” where symptoms continue to feed the condition.
Experts still aren’t sure what causes fibromyalgia or how it develops in the body. Some believe that mixed-up pain signals in the brain cause greater pain chemicals and/or overactive pain receptors. Others think it might be triggered, in part, by an emotional event like an illness, injury or psychological stress. But even if the cause involves emotions, the pain is still real.
How children can cope with fibromyalgia
It’s important to create a support team and get your child’s primary care doctor, pain specialist, psychologist, physical therapist, and teachers on board. The more people are aware of your child’s condition, the more they can help him/her cope with symptoms at home and school. You may also want to look for pain support groups near you, for both your child and you as a parent.
Your doctor can help you decide whether medication, such as anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, or nerve pain medications, may be right for your child. He or she also may recommend therapies like injections or topical creams. In conjunction with these interventions, your doctor will probably prescribe treatments like physical therapy and behavioral changes, which are crucial to long-term management of fibromyalgia.
Let’s go over some nonpharmacological strategies for coping with fibromyalgia.
Five strategies for improved symptoms
Although fibromyalgia may disrupt your child’s life, affecting school and friendships, you may be able to improve your child’s quality of life with these natural therapies and changes. Of course, there’s no cure for fibromyalgia, but by managing symptoms, you can help your child get back to some sense of normalcy.
- Get moving!
Exercise can be incredibly valuable for managing your child’s fibromyalgia symptoms. Exercise can relieve muscle stiffness and tire out the body physically so that your child can fall asleep more easily. In particular, pool exercises have been shown to help patients because the warm water can have a soothing effect on pain and also promote blood circulation.
Consider signing up your child for swim class to get regular exercise that is both fun and good for symptoms. Start with limited intervals of exercise at first, and slowly increase them as symptoms allow. Aquatic physical therapy can be extremely beneficial for patients whose fibromyalgia is too severe for regular pool activities.
- Incorporate meditation methods
While your child may not be interested in meditation, try to incorporate some of the practices in your child’s daily life. After playtime, encourage your child to take a moment to relax and reset. In addition, teach your child how to use relaxing breathing exercises when he/she feels overwhelmed during school or before bed.
Studies show that meditation can help reduce fibromyalgia patients’ stiffness, anxiety and depression. In the least, promoting a stress-free environment and creating a sense of relaxation will help your child feel less anxious.
- Say goodnight to fibromyalgia
Your child’s sleep routine is essential for improving fibromyalgia symptoms. Chart out the best routine for your child together. Make sure he/she goes to bed at the same time every day and start “sleep-ready” habits an hour before bed. This routine could include a break from screen time, reading a story together, listening to a relaxing song and/or taking a hot bath. Promoting a relaxing environment will help your child get to sleep.
Make sure you’re not giving your child food late at night, especially items with any caffeine or sugar. Also, be sure take away tablets and cell phones. The blue light can wake up your child instead of helping him/her get sleepy. Sufficient sleep is essential to managing pain.
- Change your child’s diet for success
Some experts recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet to prevent aches and pains. In general, an anti-inflammatory diet is based on the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, fish, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil.
Update your child’s lunch to include a handful of nuts, or add an apple for a snack. Anytime you can add fruits and vegetables to his/her diet, do it! This boost of nutrients will fuel your child for success. Try to limit junk food as well, which has no value and could actually inflame your child’s pains.
- Schedule your child for a physical therapy session
Your child could benefit from seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor near you. Recent studies show how physical therapy or chiropractic can have a positive impact on fibromyalgia patients. Finding the right physical therapist is important. Call in advance to ensure they have experience with fibromyalgia and/or with children. Specific exercises in physical therapy can help to improve your child’s core strength and incorporate techniques to soothe muscle aches and pain.
Similarly, regular massage therapy sessions with an experienced masseuse can improve your child’s exercise, sleep and mood.
Talk to your doctor
A fibromyalgia diagnosis can be challenging, but doesn’t have to take over your child’s life. It’s a good idea to talk to an expert to come up with the most effective care plan for your child, one that ideally includes a diverse range of strategies, like those listed above. Together, you can talk about your child’s specific issues and needs, and figure out the best way to improve symptoms.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells is a graduate of the University of Nevada where he earned his bachelor of science degree before moving on to complete his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College. He founded Better Health Chiropractic in Anchorage in 1998. He became passionate about being in the chiropractic field after his own experiences with hurried, unprofessional healthcare providers. The goal for Dr. Wells is to treat his patients with care and compassion while providing them with a better quality of life through his professional treatment.