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Fibromyalgia

Introduction

Fibromyalgia is a common syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues.  Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

Anatomy

Fibromyalgia can be present in most areas of a person’s body, and women are more likely to develop this condition than men.

Causes

There is currently no known cause for fibromyalgia.  There are, however, possible triggers for this condition which include:  physical or emotional trauma, abnormal pain response, sleep disturbances and infections such as a virus (although no known virus has been linked to this disorder).

Symptoms

Pain is the main symptom of fibromyalgia, and this may be mild or severe.  The painful areas are called tender points and they can be found in the soft tissue on the back of the neck, shoulder, chest, lower back, hips, shins, elbows, and knees.  The pain then spreads out from these areas.  The joints are not affected by this condition; however, it may feel like that is where the pain is originating.  People with fibromyalgia tend to wake up with body aches and stiffness, and for some people, the pain improves during the day while others have pain all day long.  Other symptoms of fibromyalgia may include irritable bowel syndrome, memory and concentration problems, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, reduced ability to exercise, and tension or migraine headaches.

Diagnosis

There is no single test to diagnose fibromyalgia, but there are certain criteria a patient must meet in order for a physician to come to this conclusion.  The first is that you must have had at least three months of widespread pain that affects all four quadrants of the body (both sides, above the waist, and below the waist).  The second part of the criteria is that a person must have pain in the designated tender points in the body.  Blood and urine tests will usually come back normal, however, these tests may still be done to rule out and other conditions that have similar symptoms.

Treatment

While there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, physical therapy can help ease some of the pain by teaching you exercises and stretches that can help alleviate discomfort.  Your therapist will use different techniques such as massage, heat/ice packs, and stimulation to help condition weak muscles and reduce muscle tension, and also to help combat other symptoms that go along with the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

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