Primary fibromyalgia syndrome is a disorder in which the sufferer is chronically tired and sleepless, has muscle aches and stiffness that are sometimes incapacitating, and complains of tenderness when pressure is applied to certain parts of the body. These tender points are usually in muscle in or near:
- base of the neck
- upper chest
- lower back
- elbows and knees
For a doctor to diagnose fibromyalgia, he must detect at least four separate tender points (some authorities suggest 11 or more).
Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia symptoms involving several parts of the body.
Sometimes fibromyalgia is triggered in people who have suffered an injury or infection or another disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis), spent time in a damp or cold environment, or who get insufficient sleep. When it occurs in older people, it frequently accompanies osteoarthritis of the spine but it is not a component of osteoarthritis.
Fibromyalgia is considered somewhat mysterious because it has no recognized cause and some physicians have tended to believe its symptoms are physical manifestations of stress, anxiety or depression. It is sometimes compared with another puzzling disorder called chronic fatigue syndrome. Both are gradually becoming more accepted as a medical problem.
Some physicians prescribe anti-inflammatory agents, muscle relaxants and/or antidepressant medications for their patients with fibromyalgia. Each of these is seldom completely effective on its own and a combination of treatment measures may help.
Certain lifestyle changes seem to alleviate the symptoms as much as the drugs. Examples of some of these changes are:
- Stress management
- Exercise to improve the patient’s physical condition and flexibility
- Getting regular sleep
Some people also try “alternative” therapies such as acupressure, acupuncture, or osteopathic manipulation. Relief varies from person to person.