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Fibromyalgia: Muscle Malady or Myth?

Young woman curled up on a couch

The information on this site is not to be used in lieu of qualified medical advice from your physician.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, currently, more than 3.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with a widespread muscle pain condition known as fibromyalgia (FM). Unlike what many doctors thought about this condition in earlier days, the pain of fibromyalgia is real. If you have fibromyalgia, it isn’t all in your head! But the idea that it’s a muscle disease has also been proven a myth.


What is Fibromyalgia?

The Arthritis Foundation describes fibromyalgia as a condition “associated with chronic pain, fatigue, memory problems, and mood changes,” and adds that “fibromyalgia is not a single disease, but a constellation of symptoms that can be managed.” (Arthritis Foundation, Retrieved, 2018) According to the Fibromyalgia Network, fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic pain (lasting for more than three months) in the soft, fibrous body tissues, such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. People with FM also complain about overall flu-like body aching called myalgias. In addition, the muscles often feel tight and overworked. (Fibromyalgia Network, Retrieved, 2018) Research suggests that fibromyalgia is not really a muscle disorder at all but “a disorder of the central nervous system that affects the muscles and the relay system of brain messaging.” (Cooper and Miller, 2010)


Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

  • Widespread muscle pain

  • Chronic fatigue

  • All-over flu-like aching

  • Muscle stiffness, especially in mornings

  • Sleep disturbances (disrupted stage-4 sleep)

  • Muscle knots, cramping, weakness

  • Memory problems/brain fog

  • Digestive disorders

  • Headaches/migraines

  • Balance Problems

  • Itchy, burning skin


How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

According to the American College of Rheumatology:

  1. From patient history: widespread aching lasting more than three months

  2. From examination: local tenderness at 11 of 18 specific sites [tender points] in all four quadrants of the body (above and below the waist on both sides)

(Cooper & Miller, 2010, p. 5, 9)


What Causes Fibromyalgia?

Doctors don’t know for sure what causes this condition. However, there are perhaps some triggers which have been identified. Here are some examples:

  • Bacterial or viral infections

  • Physical trauma (such as a car accident or other type of injury)

  • Development of another disorder (such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or hyperthyroidism)

NOTE: These events may not trigger the condition, but rather awaken some underlying abnormality already present in the body. (Fibromyalgia Network, Treatment and Research Notes, “Fibromyalgia FAQ’s", Retrieved 2018)


Treatment for Fibromyalgia

  • Medications approved by the FDA (most commonly prescribed): duloxetine (Cymbalta), milnacipran (Savella) and pregabalin (Lyrica)

  • Medications prescribed “off-label” (means not approved by FDA for this condition, but, prescribed by doctors because of demonstrated benefits):

  • tricyclics, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) that relieves pain and improves sleep

  • cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), which works similar to amitriptyline

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft), that relieve pain and improve mood. [See the Arthritis Foundation’s online article, “Medications for Treating Fibromyalgia” for risks and benefits of each of these medications.] (Arthritis Foundation, Retrieved 2018)

Please note: Simply because antidepressants are helpful in treating FM, this does not mean that you are depressed.

  • Sample of Coping Strategies: Relaxation Exercises, Hot/Cold Packs, Stretching and Strengthening Exercises, Self-Pacing, Biofeedback, Acupuncture, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Warning: Always check with your doctor or physical therapist before trying any vigorous physical exercise. Some exercises can actually make FM worse.

If you log onto Fibromyalgia Network’s Treatment and Research News, and access the link “Article Samples,” you will find these articles: (1) Fibro Out-of-Control? Two Experts Offer Treatment Advice (2) A Neurologist’s Approach (3) Muscle Relaxants: Do They Work for Fibromyalgia? (4) Easing Chest Pain (5) Why Your Pain is Head to Toe?


Let us know in the comments what the hardest part of dealing with FM is for you and any tips you have found that made things easier.


For more Information see the Following Sources: (1) Arthritis Foundation: www. (2) Fibromyalgia Network: (3) American Fibromyalgia Association: (4) (Provides free access to a comprehensive, authoritative database, which includes up- to-date information in layman’s terms from the world’s largest medical library, the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health or NIH). (5) (Provides free access to information in clinical terms from an extensive database of biomedical literature including peer-reviewed journals from the National Library of Medicine of the NIH. (4) Cooper, C., & Miller, J. Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain: The Body-Mind Connection. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2010.

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