Background: Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness. Reversible modulation of the pain threshold is believed to contribute to the pathogenesis of this condition, and psychosocial stress is known to alter the pain threshold.
Objective: To describe and compare the psychological profile of fibromyalgia patients attending chiropractic clinics in Australia.
Setting: Chiropractic clinics located in 5 Australian states and the Australian capital territory with practices in inner city, suburban, coastal, and rural areas were included.
Subjects: Chiropractic patients with acute and chronic biomechanical conditions, fibromyalgia, and who were undergoing maintenance care were included in the study.
Method: A case study to explore the psychological profile of fibromyalgia patients was undertaken. The Distress and Risk Assessment Method (DRAM) and Sense of Coherence (SOC) questionnaires were used to ascertain and compare the distress, sense of coherence, and manageability levels of patients with fibromyalgia with patients having maintenance chiropractic care. Purposive sampling of practitioners and convenience sampling of patients fulfilling the study's inclusion criteria were undertaken. Patients were asked to complete two questionnaires and chiropractors to complete one questionnaire and an interview.
Results: While more than half of the patients in the fibromyalgia group were distressed, fewer than 1 in 7 maintenance patients were found to be distressed according to the DRAM questionnaire. With several individual exceptions, fibromyalgia patients also tended to have lower SOC and manageability scores than the maintenance group.
Conclusion: This study supports the view that fibromyalgia may represent a problem of coping with various environmental stresses, including psychosocial stresses. However, owing to individual variation, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia at the clinical level does not accurately predict whether a particular patient is distressed or has a low SOC score. Screening of fibromyalgia patients may help determine whether intensive counseling and stress management by the chiropractor or another health professional should be contemplated.