There are many theories on what causes fibromyalgia — a chronic pain condition that affects women seven times more than men.
But there is no conclusive scientific data that points to a singular, specific culprit. In fact, no sole cause is suspected.
In simplest terms, fibromyalgia is believed to be a change in the central nervous system that heightens pain perception. This change can be brought on by genetics, emotional stress, or, as a new study concludes, physical trauma or infection.
It was a head-on collision in 1996 that triggered fibromyalgia in Susan Lodato, a realtor in Asheville, North Carolina.
“The first generation air bag was not made for short people,” Lodato explained to Healthline, “so it hit my nose on an upswing, causing whiplash.”
Study Looks at Injuries, Infections
The study found that more than a quarter of the participants reported a precipitating event as Lodato experienced. Approximately 80 percent of those respondents reported physical trauma while 20 percent cited infections.
The infections included flu, pneumonia, and Epstein-Barr virus, supporting the previously well-documented connection between infection and fibromyalgia.
Reported physical traumas included overexertion, neck injury, surgery, and childbirth, but the largest percentage reported injuries from motor vehicle accidents.
Lodato is not surprised by these findings.
“I didn’t have any [neurological] problems before the accident,” says Lodato. “About four to six months after the accident, I was experiencing numb fingers, aches and pains throughout my body, and increased fatigue. After ruling out autoimmune disorders, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.”
An earlier study on neck injury and fibromyalgia published in the in 1997 seems to corroborate the high numbers of prior motor vehicle accidents reported in this latest study, given that neck injuries are common in motor vehicle accidents. The earlier study found fibromyalgia was 13 times more frequent following neck injury than following lower extremity injury.
Injury-Related Fibromyalgia Comes on Quicker, Stronger
Fibromyalgia patients who linked their ailment to motor vehicle accidents were also more likely to have a sudden onset of the condition. About 87 percent with prior infection or injury had sudden onset, versus about 6 percent of those without precipitating events.
Those with physical trauma or injury are also more likely to have more limited physical function from their fibromyalgia than patients with onset not tied to a prior injury.
Fibromyalgia can have a destructive impact on one’s ability to work and participate in everyday activities. Life is certainly different for Lodato since her accident.
“I've given up gardening and many other things I loved to do,” she says. “I limit the hours I work with real estate clients, and can't even go down stairs without having two days of severe pain.”
She concedes though, “There are worse conditions to have, but this one sucks the life out of you.”
While this latest fibromyalgia study serves to reinforce the link between prior injury or infection, the study’s authors acknowledge that more investigation still needs to be done.
“Further prospective studies are needed to better understand which types of infection or trauma are more likely to lead to fibromyalgia and which patient characteristics are most likely associated with development of fibromyalgia after precipitating events,” the authors wrote.
A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is an award-winning blogger and author of the Amazon best seller, “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD.” Her second book, “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD,” is now available.