Fibromyalgia (FM) is often categorized as a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning the causes are unknown and a diagnosis is often reach once all other options have been explored and ruled out. In its clinical presentation, Fibromyalgia is described as a central sensitivity syndrome with hallmark symptoms related to abnormal processing of the central nervous system. New research is uncovering the connection between the central nervous system and the immune system in the inflammatory processes underlying chronic pain, fatigue, and cognitive changes which are classic signs of Fibromyalgia.
There is a growing appreciation of the interconnectedness of the nervous and immune systems of the body, leading to a new area of study called neuroimmunology. New research has shed light on a lower concentration of neurologically derived markers of inflammation called cytokines and chemokines in the blood of Fibromyalgia sufferers. These findings point to the central nervous system as the source of “pro-inflammatory cytokines” (PIC) and chemokines which are protein signals that serve as “messengers” between the nervous system and endocrine systems. In a state of increased stress, cytokines and chemokines are produced to stimulate an appropriate physiological response. Researchers have discovered lower levels of cytokines in the blood of FM sufferers indicating that decreased level of stress resilience may be leading to an abnormal response to mental, physical, and chemical stressors. The accumulative effects of these inadequate stress responses may be contributing to the “central sensitivity syndrome” that leads to chronic fatigue, cognitive impairment, and hypersensitive and painful tissues in the body.
Under normal circumstances, mental, physical, and chemical stressors trigger the coordinated effort of the central nervous system and endocrine system to adapt to these increased demands. A diminished or improperly coordinated response limits the body’s ability to adapt to and overcome these changes in its environment through cell-mediated resistance. The associated decrease in “innate immunity” associated with a decreased level of adaptability in the central nervous system may be a new field of exploration and source of hope for Fibromyalgia sufferers. A simple blood test can detect abnormal levels of these neuroimmune signaling proteins and indicate the need for interventions focused on increasing the adaptability of the central nervous system.
With an understanding of the bi-directional communication between the central nervous system and the immune system, upper cervical doctors have a unique healthcare service focused on identifying abnormal spinal alignment that leads to a diminished level of function in the central nervous system. The spine and central nervous system work together as a functional unit, highlighting the importance of the age-old adage, “structure determines function.”
While the findings associated with a decreased neuroimmune response are reported in the case of Fibromyalgia sufferers, other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and sensory processing disorders have similar physiological processes underlying them. These issues are not necessarily age-related, and functional deficits in neuroimmune function can occur throughout life.