40% of fibromyalgia patients experience headaches. Fibromyalgia headache is another debilitating symptom of the chronic pain syndrome which prevents patients from leading a normal life. The most common types of fibromyalgia headaches are muscle tension headache, migraine and combination of both.
What Does Fibromyalgia Headaches Feel Like?
Every individual experiences fibromyalgia headaches differently. Fibromyalgia headaches can surface as:
- sharp, pulsing pain
- pain on one side of the head
- pain that spreads to the neck and shoulders
- pain at the back of head and nape, near the tender points
- giddiness or nausea
- sensitivity to light, sound or smell
The difference in how fibromyalgia headaches surface in different people can be due to the varied causes of the symptom.
What Causes Fibromyalgia Headaches?
There are many reasons why a person with fibromyalgia suffers from headaches. Headaches are usually the resulting symptom of an existing problem in the person’s health or lifestyle. This problem can range from a medical condition, a lack of certain nutrient or chemical in the body or even a lifestyle abnormality. As mentioned, there are 3 types of fibromyalgia headaches – muscle tension headache, migraine and combination headache. We will go into detail of each type of fibromyalgia headache, its causes and how to treat it.
Muscle Tension Headache
Muscle tension headache is simply what the term suggests. It is caused by tensed muscles in the head or adjacent areas like the neck and shoulders which are caused by tender points or trigger points. Having said that, tender points and trigger points located near the neck and shoulders are likely the reason behind muscle tension headaches in fibromyalgia.
Treating muscle tension headaches involves alleviating the tensed muscles that are causing the headaches. Although there is no known treatment to eliminate tender points, the characteristic symptom of fibromyalgia, there are certainly ways to get rid of trigger points. Fibromyalgia trigger points can be treated with trigger point injections, massage therapies like myofascial release or even pharmaceutical muscle relaxants like Zanaflex or Norflex. Furthermore, there are also other natural muscle relaxers for fibromyalgia such as taking an epsom salt bath or foot soak, rubbing chamomile oil on affected area or drinking cherry juice.
Migraine and fibromyalgia are more similar that you think. Like fibromyalgia, migraine is another mystery itself where the cause is not fully comprehended. What we understand so far is that it begins with an abnormality in the brain and its interaction with the trigeminal nerve, a key pain pathway. Researchers believe the abnormality to be an imbalance of brain chemicals of which Serotonin is a biggest suspect. Here is where the similarities of migraine and fibromyalgia come in. Studies have shown that low serotonin levelscan cause migraine headaches and is also theorized to be a cause of fibromyalgia too. In fact, the common symptoms faced by fibromyalgia patients, fatigue, lack of sleep, stress, are also causes of migraine.
Similar to fibromyalgia, there are no cure to migraines. There are over-the-counter medications to provide pain relief such acetaminophen, naproxen, ibuprofen. However, the main treatment should focus on prevention rather than cure. Lifestyle changes which can help prevent migraine includes drinking sufficient water, ensuring enough sleep, reducing stress, avoiding trigger foods and exercising regularly.
Fibromyalgia combination headache is basically the combination of muscle tension headache and migraine. It is very common for fibromyalgia patients to suffer from both muscle tension headache, resulting from tensed muscles, and migraine, triggered by the lack of sleep, stress, or low serotonin levels, at the same time. Combination headache can exhibit many symptoms at once hence making it especially debilitating. A person who is having combination headache would find it difficult to rest or relax. He or she would feel pain spreading to the head and may also experience nausea, dizziness and sensitivity to light, noise or smells.