Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic illness that causes pain throughout the body. It is diagnosed by
having your doctor look for pain at certain “tender points” on your body. These points are
found in the neck, back, shoulders, and hips, and other parts of the body. If you are tender at a
certain number of these points, your doctor may feel you have FM.
People with FM may have fatigue, problems with sleep, morning stiffness, stomach upset, and
other problems. Many patients also suffer from depression or anxiety. FM may affect three to
six million Americans and is seven times more common in women than in men. The reason for
this is unknown. FM is less common in children.
Doctors do not yet know what causes FM, but they have some ideas. The brain and spinal cord
have circuits that help reduce the amount of pain we feel. These circuits may not work well in
FM. Causes can include Injuries, severe illnesses, low blood pressure, and hormone levels that
are not normal. Some people with FM have very flexible joints and ligaments. There is research
going on to look for the cause of FM.
Other diseases can look like FM, and your doctor will make sure you do not have them before
diagnosing it. When checking your health history, your doctor will be looking for chronic pain
that involves most of the body, along with fatigue, sleep problems, and tenderness.
You, your doctor and your physical therapist all play an active role in the treatment of your FM.
The most helpful treatment is rehabilitation. If you have tight muscles, you will learn exercises to
stretch them. Other exercises can help improve posture and reduce strain on muscles and joints.
Studies have shown that light aerobic exercises like swimming or walking can reduce pain and
tenderness, improve fitness, and help sleep patterns. Exercise can be painful at first. You may
need to start with as little as five minutes, working towards a goal of twenty or thirty minutes
four or more times a week. At first you should work with a physical therapist, often as part of a
larger rehabilitation team.
Drugs can be given to treat depression, improve sleep and relax muscles. Some pain medicines
may be useful, but they work best when combined with non-drug treatments. Heat, cold,
massage, and acupuncture may give short-term relief, though they do not cure FM. Most people
find the greatest help by combining exercise, medication, and relaxation.
Coping with chronic pain can be difficult. Your doctor may suggest some visits to a counselor.
They can help you to learn new ways to cope with your pain, like relaxation techniques and
biofeedback. They may provide advice and support to help you deal with stressful parts of your
life. Groups or classes can be a good way to learn more about coping with pain.
The goal of treatment is to help you to live with your FM. Your treatment team will work with
you to reach a higher level of function at work, at home, and throughout your daily life. They
will help you to have less pain if they can. There is no known cure for FM, so we cannot expect
your symptoms to go away. By working with your doctor and therapists, you should be able to
function better and enjoy your life.
You can find out more about fibromyalgia from:
National Fibromyalgia Association
1000 Bristol St. North Suite 17-247,
Newport Beach, CA 92660
PO Box 31750
Tucson, AZ 85751-1750
National Fibromyalgia Partnership
140 Zinn Way
Linden, VA 22642-5609
Toll Free Phone: 866-725-4404
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©1/2015. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5641.