Support groups forms for chronic pain sufferers
Wednesday was an average day for Maureen Helm of Fraser who, with the musculoskeletal disorder fibromyalgia, experienced pain throughout her body while she rested in a chair to share information about the chronic condition.It’s estimated 10 million Americans live with fibromyalgia, which brings about pain in the soft fibrous tissues of the body – muscles, ligaments and tendons.”Today – everything I’m naming is typical of fibromyalgia patients – I have horrible facial pain; it feels like I have toothaches,” Helm said, touching her cheeks.”This side of my face is burning and tingling, this whole arm is burning and tingling and this whole leg. I’ve got it in my left side today. I think I slept different. There’s a sharp pain in my hip, and then I have a muscle spasm in my back that is coming through to my chest walls.”Helm, who is starting a chronic pain support group in Grand County, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2005. A year earlier, Helm’s pain began interfering with her work in the U.S. Navy. “For a year, it was ‘all in my head’ – that’s what the doctors kept telling me,” she said. Unable to find answers to the reason behind her pain, in September 2005, she was “honorably separated” from the Navy after six years of service for being “incompatible with military life.”A rheumatologist in Omaha was the one who said Helm’s pain stemmed from fibromyalgia, believed to be a disturbance of pain processing in the central nervous system. For those with fibromyalgia, pain is amplified to the point that patients experience it in response to stimuli not usually painful to others. Accompanying disorders make the condition worse, such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and insomnia, and patients can feel hyper-sensitivity to things such as medications, sunlight, noise and foods. “We have flare-ups where the symptoms are worse and it’s very difficult to get out of bed, or we stay in bed for days on end because we are unable to get up,” Helm said. The syndrome is more prevalent in women than men, with 75 percent of f ibromyalgia patients being female, and is thought to be genetic, often triggered by physical trauma to the body. Both of Helm’s parents were chronic pain sufferers.”There’s something different every day,” Helm said. “And tomorrow, my big toe might hurt so bad I can’t concentrate. And then the next day, I might have ‘ants’ running under my skin, and I can’t get out of bed from being so on fire. It’s crazy stuff.”Her condition can cause exhaustion, disturbed sleep and dyscognition, meaning she’s too tired to think straight, called “fibro fog.”Helm said she’s not only lost jobs because of her symptoms but has lost close friends and boyfriends. “People don’t understand that it’s not all in your head,” she said. “It’s an invisible disorder and we hope through education and awareness we can bring it into the light. It’s very often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.”Although there is no cure, Helm has found that yoga exercises help manage her pain, as well as proper rest, diet and therapies such as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care.Upon feeling well enough this April, Helm adopted a Pomeranian named Rocky from the Grand County Animal Shelter. The dog, she said, helps “pull her out of bed every morning, even when I don’t feel well, to take him for a walk.” And Helm finally found the mental-health connection she craved when she attended a chronic pain support meeting in April in Federal Heights. “I’d wished I’d gone sooner,” she said.The support group helped her to feel that she was not alone in how she felt, and with her online masters studies in public administration, she immediately became motivated to start a support group to help other chronic pain sufferers here in Grand County.Her newly formed group is open to others with fibromyalgia as well as those who have multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, migraines, arthritis and other pain disorders.Their families, friends, caregivers and those in the medical community may also attend meetings, Helm said.Her first meeting coincides with Gov. Bill Ritter’s proclaimed “Fibromyalgia Awareness Day” in Colorado on May 12. “I would hate to think of someone else suffering alone, without good support,” she said.- Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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