It is common for those with fibromyalgia to have neck and shoulder pain, particularly with Type 1 Fibromyalgia, Immune Hypersensitivity. This isn’t limited to that type of fibro, though, but is common through most of the eight types. This pain comes from a combination of how nitric oxide, a gaseous signalling molecule (known as a gaso-transmitter) and the lymphatic system interact.
I’m fascinated by the lymphatic system. For medical qigong, this, along with the endocrine system and circulatory system, is the bread and butter of all of the therapies. I deal with lymph on a daily basis by moving it, and so do you.
First, what is the lymphatic system? Here is a handy video, with a calming voice narrating, that gives a brief overview.
Basically, as your capillaries open (the little webbing of vessels that connect your arteries and veins), they squeeze blood out into your muscles and fascia. This is where much of the nutrient exchange happens and waste disposal begins from various parts of the body. About 80-90% of this fluid re-enters the blood stream and goes on it’s merry way, but the remaining 10-20% instead get squeezed out into the lymphatic system, where through a series of smooth muscle contraction, skeletal muscle movement, and breathing, it works its way up your body where it can drop back into the blood stream, all fresh and clean and full of white blood cells, where the circulatory system is at the lowest pressure, your subclavular veins.
Your subclavular veins are (as the name suggests) under your clavicle. Your lymphatic system works its way up your body to move across the back of your neck and shoulders, dropping down into that vein.
So imagine this: an immune system cranking into overdrive, rushing to send the cavalry to fight off an invading pathogen. The spleen starts chugging away, loading the lymph with lymphocytes, the lymph nodes swell up, filling with antibodies. The interstitial fluid gets whisked away, pulling extra plasma out of the blood stream.
Then something goes wrong. The system does not get shut off.
Like anyone working for too long without a break, it starts to break down. The spleen is in constant use, causing enzymatic dysfunction as various gut flora are allowed to flourish and die in unbalanced ways, essentially going to war. Nitric oxide builds up around lymph nodes as it tries to dilate blood vessels and move smooth muscle, but then ends up staying too long and causing inflammation and pain. The constant draw of energy to keep the immune system pumping causes intense fatigue, and as the spleen gets further out of balance, it disrupts the glucose cycle, starving the brain of essential energy. Life turns into this intense “fog” of weariness and inflammation. This constant struggle then begins to deplete all of the organs, clogging the kidneys, stifling water metabolism, straining the Liver, disrupting both sleep and menstruation, and demolishing the gut flora balance.
A big key to this, is that lymph needs to move. Heat on the back of the neck and exercises that target the lymphatic system all become effective. One little domino can cause all the rest to fall. Once you find out which one and set it back in place, you allow the body to be the powerful healing machine that it is.