FIBROMYALGIASymptoms & Causes
Fibromyalgia is a non-life-threatening, chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread pain and stiffness in the muscles and the surrounding soft tissues (including tendons and ligaments), general fatigue, sleep disturbances, and tender points in specific areas of the body. Unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia is not associated with pain or swelling in the joints because with fibromyalgia there is no inflammation of the joints, muscles, or other tissues. Fibromyalgia symptoms may also include morning stiffness, headaches, jaw pain, digestive problems (e.g. IBS), painful menstrual periods, urinary issues, numbness or tingling of the extremities, restless legs syndrome, temperature sensitivity, cognitive and memory problems (sometimes referred to as “fibro fog”), and a variety of other symptoms.
Although we still don’t know the underlying cause (or causes) of fibromyalgia, we are starting to develop an understanding of the basic mechanisms responsible for fibromyalgia symptoms. In patients with fibromyalgia, the nervous system doesn’t seem to process sensory information correctly. Painful stimuli are perceived by the brain as significantly amplified. This is called central sensitization.
The central sensitization phenomenon explains why fibromyalgia patients are more sensitive to stimuli and why a stimulus that would not produce pain in the general population will result in a pain response in a fibromyalgia patient.
Another difference between fibromyalgia patients and the general population is the processing of painful stimuli:
- If a painful stimulus is produced in a repetitive fashion, patients with fibromyalgia experience more rapid increases in perceived pain then people in the general population.
- After the stimulus stops, pain subsides more slowly in fibromyalgia patients.
- If a very low level of stimulus is maintained, fibromyalgia patients perceive pain indefinitely, while the general population eventually stops perceiving the pain and adapts to the stimulus.
Because of this abnormal sensory processing, conventional physical therapy techniques and exercise approaches are usually too aggressive for patients who suffer from fibromyalgia.
Read more about our fibromyalgia treatment philosophy and protocol