Lady Gaga Gets Personal About the Terrible Pain of Fibromyalgia in New Documentary

An iconic performer provides an intimate look at how chronic pain impacts her daily life in her film "Gaga: Five Foot Two."

lady gTop performer, Lady Gaga, gives an intimate look at her personal, daily struggles with chronic pain in a new documentary. On Monday (September 23, 2017), Lady Gaga announced via Twitter that she was canceling the European leg of her world tour 1 because of “severe physical pain" that has impacted her ability to perform.2

This follows on the heels of another tweet,3  when Gaga, 31, revealed that she has fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by pain and tenderness throughout the body, fatigue, and other symptoms.

Viewers of her newly released Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, will see moving footage as the singer struggles, at times in tears, to deal with the episodes of debilitating pain.  The worldwide known performer says she made to raise awareness of the disease.

The film, out last Friday (September 22, 2017) also shows intimate scenes of her team of massage therapists trying to relieve the muscle spasms that shoot throughout her body and head. She reveals on Instagram 5 that "trauma and chronic pain" has not only kept her from "living a normal life" but keeping her from what she loves best in life—performing.

"As I get stronger and when I feel ready," she writes, "I will tell my story in more depth, and plan to take this on strongly so I can not only raise awareness but expand research for others who suffer as I do, so I can help make a difference."

What is Fibromyalgia?

To better understand fibromyalgia and its devastating effect on Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Germanotta), Practical Pain Management reached out to Don Goldenberg, MD, 6 a rheumatologist and author of Fibromyalgia: A Leading Expert’s Guide to Understanding and Getting Relief from the Pain that Won’t Go Away.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary widely, from mild to severe with times of a flare-up or exacerbation.

With the cancellation of Gaga's tour, Dr. Goldenberg who has not personally treated Lady Gaga, says "it appears she is having a major exacerbation of chronic, widespread pain, which is what fibromyalgia is. Certainly, that is not unusual with this condition."

In Five Foot Two, during which Gaga never uses the word fibromyalgia, we get many glimpses into her struggle with pain, her anxiety of how she looks to the outside world, her vulnerability.

"A couple of times I was struck by her correlation of pain with her mood," says Dr. Goldenberg, "using the word depression and anxiety with the flare-up of her pain."

"She said a number of times she was having difficulty," Dr. Goldenberg says. "In one respect, she is one of the most successful people in the world and in another respect, she feels she can't get it together. I see that in chronic pain patients. In the clinical world, we call that correlation the pain/depression dyad."

"I think every chronic illness can be aggravated by overworking or over-stress," Dr. Goldenberg says. "I assume one of the top artists in the world has a lot of pressure from fans and shows." He adds: "Sleep is a big issue with people with chronic pain and I am sure having to travel and perform is not conducive to good sleep."

In Five Foot Two we see Gaga trying to fall asleep on an airplane, working on new pieces, performing at the Super Bowl, jetting across the country. 

Fibromyalgia and Physical Activity

Dr. Goldenberg, who is also a PPM Editorial Advisory Board Member, goes on to explain that one of the more striking scenes in the film for him showed Lady G lying on a sofa, overcome with pain, tears rolling down her face. "Yet she forges on—and in another scene we see her performing incredibly physical acts," he says adding that she's obviously capable of enduring a tremendous amount of physical activity despite having a chronic illness.

"With that said—and not knowing anything about her situation as I have not personally treated her—people with fibromyalgia run the gamut from having mild symptoms to having very severe symptoms," the expert explains. "There is a wide spectrum. And people can have times when they are doing well and other times when having a flare-up or exacerbation."

It's important for all who have chronic pain to stay as active as possible, Dr. Goldenberg says. "It's nice to see she is pushing when she can," he says. "We try to get people with fibromyalgia to continue to lead as normal a life as possible. With chronic pain and fibromyalgia specifically, people tend to do poorly when they are sedentary."

Gaga says in Five Foot Two that the adrenaline rush of performing helps her out. "And you can almost see it," Dr. Goldenberg says, "how much she's getting out of it."

"I would say rather than adrenaline it's more endorphins and certain neurotransmitters," he says. "It is conceivable that with a tremendous show, like a tremendous athletic performance, the so-called runner's high, it releases endorphins and neurotransmitters that may block out some of the pain. That makes perfect sense to me."

 

Updated on: 09/26/17
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