Fibromyalgia is a chronic connective tissue disorder. Common symptoms include widespread pain, fatigue and weakness. This disorder is characterized by tender points in specific locations on the neck, back, arms and legs. For those with fibromyalgia, even light pressure on these areas can cause pain. This pain often continues for weeks or months. Patients with fibromyalgia often report headaches or facial pain that might be related to the tenderness in their neck and shoulders. The disorder is also associated with anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. One common complication of fibromyalgia is called Central Sensitization. This development causes normal inputs from the peripheral nervous system begin to produce abnormal responses. Nerves that would usually only be activated by more severe stimuli are now triggered by light touch.
A physician will collect a history of symptoms from the patient and by perform a physical exam to demonstrate tender points on the body. If patient has experienced pain for at least three months and has at least 11-18 locations that are abnormally tender, the doctor will diagnose. If the patient has a history that is similar but is tender in non-fibromyalgia areas or has less than 11 tender spots, the patient is diagnosed with Myofascial Pain Syndrome. Treatments for the two conditions are very similar.
Since fibromyalgia can cause both physical and emotional discomfort, treatment must address both to be successful. Physical, exercise or aquatic therapy can help build muscle and help with stress management. The doctor may recommend that the patient undergo trigger point injections, use a TENS unit or consider alternative therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, acupuncture and massage therapy. Drug therapies by themselves tend to have mixed outcomes, but the use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), muscle relaxant or acetaminophen can be beneficial when combined with other types of treatments.