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Adrienne Dellwo

Fibromyalgia & Falls: Are You Prone?

By May 24, 2010

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Do you think fibromyalgia makes you more likely to fall? A recent study suggests it does. Researchers presented data at The American Pain Society's 29th Annual Scientific Meeting.

An interesting aspect of this study is that they looked at 3 measures of balance: visual, spatial and somatosensory (input from the skin and other organs.) The fibro folks did worse than their healthy counterparts in all 3. In fact, researchers tell WebMD that the average 50 year old with fibromyalgia did worse than what you'd expect in someone who was 70 or 80.

Researchers concluded that we need to do exercises that improve balance to prevent falls.

Most of us are well aware that we have balance problems. I frequently stagger, stumble or sway because I suddenly find myself off balance. I remember one particularly stressful day back when I was a TV news producer when I was rushing down a hallway and repeatedly bounced off the wall because I couldn't walk straight. The symptom is called either orthostatic intolerance or neurally mediated hypotension, depending on what appears to be causing it.

I took a poll about a year and a half ago on how clumsy we are, and the results speak for themselves -- more than 80% said "Oh boy, yes!"

Improving Balance

So how can we improve our balance? Another recent study showed that whole-body vibration can help. Also, yoga and Tai Chi are both options that may work well for us. (Just be sure that you start slowly and stay within your "safe" zone of exertion so you don't cause a flare.)

This study also made me think about bone health. Did you know fibromyalgia may actually be a risk factor for osteoporosis? Whether its because we're less active than other people or due to problems with absorption (or both), we need to be on alert for this. When you combine osteoporosis with a tendency to fall, you end up with broken bones. Here's information on osteoporosis for you:

Do you have balance problems? Have you had some bad falls? Do you have osteoporosis or early signs of it? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo Charlie Schuck/Getty Images

May 24, 2010 at 7:12 pm
(1) abotbensussen says:

I’ve noticed how badly my balance performs and have had a few falls and accidents to alarm me. i am now taking pilates classes which is emphasizing balance and am doing much better. People with fibromyalgia really need a good support network, i take yoga, feldenkreiss, massage therapy, and use a few weight machines 4 times a week. This is a very serious illness and can wreck our lives without great help from drs., teachers, health professionals.

May 24, 2010 at 7:31 pm
(2) DrCPainMD says:

This finding is consistent with the results of a Study by Dr. Nathaniel F. Watson, of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Institute at Harborview, Seattle, demonstrating detectable neurological changes in patients with Fibromyalgia compared to normal controls.
It has also been known for a while now that parts of the brain actually atrophy in patients with Fibromyalgia and these changes are visible on MRI scan. While it doesn’t answer any questions of why this all happens, that it occurs and can be measured will be helpful as research moves forward towards good treatments and possibly a cure one day.

September 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm
(3) victoria sands says:

I recently noticed a big change in my stability. I was bumping into walls,off balance for some time now. I also noticed I am in severe chronic pain. It never occured to me that I could have fibromyalgia. Yet,all the systems are apparent to me. I had a very bad fall last week,in and my legs just gave way. I have been having severe numbness in my legs. Is there any natural treatment. I have been doing stretches. It is not working well. I noticed if I do alot of walking, this pain all over my legs is worse. Feels like I am cripple…any suggestions to homopathic therapy. Rather than drugs.
thankyou for any suggestions

May 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm
(4) Donna Bills says:

Oh my gosh I am so happy it is the Fibro and not me I thought I was ready for the looney bin because I fall so much another side effect does this stuff ever stop I went on vacation last week and fell 10 times it was horrible and embarssing. Donna

May 28, 2010 at 5:17 pm
(5) Amberley says:

I dropped things all the time, and walk in slight zig-zags too. Tripping over my own feet, and toes also seem to happen a lot. Then there is tripping over my cat which I think is unrelated :-) .I always just thought I was a clumsy person, now I feel a little better.

May 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm
(6) Nancy Henson says:

My primary diagnosis is ME/CFS with mild fibromyalgia. But I have had balance issues for the over 25 years I’ve had this. But I also acquired neuropathy. My neurologist calls it idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. My feet burn and feel icy cold. I experience the silk glove sensation. Its a tightness around my feet and ankles and if I forget my medication gabapentin (generic for neurontin)the tightness goes all the way up to my knees.

My feet swell as well without the medication. But I do fall easily. I’m also very clumsy and drop things all the time.

This is definitely a central nervous system issue.

I encourage people with extreme symptoms to see a neurologist to make sure its not something in addition to ME/CFS. But I also tell them not to say anything about ME/CFS because of the huge bias against its being a real disease. Fortunately my neurologist doesn’t put down ME/CFS or Fibro.

May 28, 2010 at 7:57 pm
(7) Georgia says:

Daily exercising, stretching, & yoga has helped me immensely with balancing issues along with improving overall health. I’m very concerned about my bones as my last dexa-scan showed worsened osteopenia. This came as a surprise as I eat plenty of calcium-rich foods in addition to taking calcium supplements & plenty of vitamin D. At the onset of my fibro, I had serious IBS which may have contributed to the depletion of this mineral as the severe diarrhea must have caused malabsorption. Fortunately, my intestinal system has greatly improved & I’m hoping the next dexa-scan will show better results. I also gave in to Fosamax.

Take care,

May 29, 2010 at 9:58 am
(8) vera says:

I was in an auto accident and suffered from vertigo and balance probs. My lawyer sent me to a dizziness and balance specialist and his p.t. I was given exercises to do. The main thing was to do the thing that makes you dizzy…after some slight nausea, it began to work. I still have balance issues. Sometimes it may look like I’m staggering instead of walking.

8 years after the accident, fms appeared (although it 2 years for the official diagnosis). I’ve heard that an auto accident can lead to fms. I’ve always felt that there was some connection.

Re: fosomax…I took it for around 9 years. At first my bone scans showed improvement, but in the last 4 years, not so. After hearing about the ‘mysterious’ femur fractures, I stopped taking it. I just take lots of Vitamin D. A recent blood test showed that my Vit. D levels were very good.

Peace and Health to all.

May 29, 2010 at 11:21 am
(9) Tammie Page says:

just a minor correction…… the statement, “The symptom is called either orthostatic intolerance or neurally mediated hypotension, depending on what appears to be causing it.” is not exactly correct

….actually neurally mediated hypotension is one type of orthostatic intolerance – it’s not either or…..POTS is another type of OI (NMH is a drop in systolic blood pressure and POTS is an extreme increase in heart rate – both are forms of OI and there are actually some others as well)

They can lead to a bunch of symptoms, not just dizziness & loss of balance, too. …..passing out, nausea, trouble breathing, shaking, headache, and cognitive dysfunction are some of these

May 29, 2010 at 9:09 pm
(10) Rebecca says:

One should be careful about taking the bone-building medications for osteop. until they are better tested. From what studies I’ve read, while they do show building of bone, it’s like filling your bone with chalk. They actually become MORE brittle. After what appears to be improvement in the first few years, patients are more prone to full breaks, particularly in the femur/tibia/pelvis. I’d talk to your doctor and really look at the studies before making such a big decision.

May 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm
(11) Sandy Birkenmaier says:

I had a supervisor who didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with me, until the day I turned around, and he caught me before I hit the ground when I went straight over sideways. I told him it was “just” my fibromyalgia, and he realized that something really was happening.

I found that simple balance exercises helped immensely. I try to balance on one foot while I put on a sock, one leg of underpants, then one leg of my pants. Initially, I had to grab the back of a chair every few seconds, but it became much easier with practice.

June 1, 2010 at 8:08 pm
(12) weeroo says:

My balance got so bad I was walking like I was drunk. I had to go really slow and take tiny steps. I noticed my right foot was pointing to the left just as it got a few inches off the ground. A physical therapist treated me for alignment of my hips (the right one was twisting forward) and myofascial. From extreme stress from a recent trauma my fascia (muscle sheathing) had tightened up and was causing not only the hip twisting but a problem I was having with sleeping while driving and cognitive function getting worse, and heart arythmia from mitral valve way worse than it should be. Extremely tight around the base of my skull and cutting off oxygen and nerve function. If you find yourself suddenly getting worse seek out a massage therapist that specialises in myofacial release, it is amazing for the rigid muscles we tend to develop. (I hardly weave going down a hallway any more!) Helping one aspect can sometimes be enough to restore your belief in life again.

June 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm
(13) Deborah A. says:

Ah ..which is worse…being taken for a drunk or being taken for an idiot (when my mind takes a time-out and I am trying to tell a patron about this really good book but I can’t remember the name and I can’t remember the author……Working as a substitute clerk for our county library was probably not the best idea but I muddle through.

My balance has gotten worse over the last couple of years. I’ll be 68 in November. The loss of balance has led to an interesting problem — stairs. I went to an office yesterday and saw that the stairs were quite steep and higher than usual. I swallowed my pride and I could tell that the office was the upstairs room (not an office with a door) — went about 1/3 of the way up and then asked if someone could come down to talk to me. I just could not climb that kind of stairway and we won’t even mention coming DOWN the stairs. Luckily my house is a ranch.

My dogs (and sometimes the cats) seem to know when I’m having a bad day and will get out of my way so I don’t trip over them. This week has been bad so far — thunderstorms almost every night. And I’m trying to come to terms with an auto accident a couple of weeks ago. And, yes, my balance has been particularly bad.

Sorry to burble on (as a friend calls it). It’s so wonderful to know I’m not the only one with a problem — this forum has been very special to me.

December 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm
(14) Lucy says:

I have had balance problems for quite awhile. I was diagnosed with FMS about 10 years ago but I’m sure I had it at least 10 years before that. Before I knew what was wrong, I pushed myself being determioned to work through whatever was going on. I just made myself worse.

FMS is not my only problem that contributes to falls. I probably have neurologically medicated hypotension. I frequently run a BP of 100 systolic and occasionally less. If I am not careful about how I go from sitting to standing I find myself grabbing the wall to keep from passing out. Medications such as SSRI or Tricyclics make htis much worse.

But, I also have cataracts as well as a genetic eye disease called Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy. These have really messed up my depth perceptiuon and I have trouble preceiving small variations in the ground. Small differences in the elevations of sections of sidewalk will get me as will any uneven ground. I have had to have surgery on both knees and have had broken ribs twice, all from falls.

I take a gentle Yoga class twice a week and that has helped with balance issues as well as some pain problems such as IT band syndrome. If I get to vigorous with it, I suffer so I try to be careful not to over do.

So, it would be no surprise at all if FMS plays a role in this. I just wish someone would come up with more effective treatments without all the obnoxious side effects not to mention the potentiallhy lethal one such as serotonin tozicity.

I hope everyone has a pain free holiday season!

December 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm
(15) mom2pekes2 says:

@ DrCPain: I have known for over a dozen years the brain differences, but most fibro patients are uninformed about this. I feel the better informed we are the better armed we are for all the battles we will face as fibro patients.
@Adrienne D. I am guilty of saying ‘well at least it won’t kill me,” but not ever again. I have severe dizziness upon standing almost anytime after sitting a short time or longer time, it does not seem to matter. I had a mild heart attack in 2000 and most, but not all EKGs do not show I have even had one. I have also bounced off walls literally and technically. The bruises are no fun, but seem to be accumulating more frequently.
Now: How do I get someone to pay attention to the fact that my husband also has fibro? He is on dialysis due to ESRD, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt he is also a fibro patient. I am in no way discounting the kidney disease, I just know the fibro needs to be treated also. He hurts continually, falls, no balance, dizziness, neuropathy much worse than mine. Both of us have tested positive for Epstein Barre. I know I have had mono, and am betting he has too. We were both in two severe car wrecks 40 yrs apart where we were fortunate to be alive with all of our limbs in tact afterward.

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