Fibromyalgia joint pain stems from changes in how your brain processes pain signals. It’s often accompanied by fatigue and muscle tenderness.

Have you ever felt tired and achy with the flu? This is how many people describe fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes fatigue, pain, and tenderness throughout the body. But rather than lasting a week, fibromyalgia can last for years and years.

While fibromyalgia is primarily known for its impact on muscles, it can also cause joint pain. But the joint pain in fibromyalgia is distinct from the type of joint pain caused by arthritis or other joint conditions.

Joint pain in fibromyalgia is often described as a dull ache that affects multiple joints, particularly in the neck, shoulders, hips, and knees. The pain can be constant or intermittent and may be accompanied by stiffness and swelling.

Unlike other forms of joint pain (like arthritis), fibromyalgia pain is not linked to any visible damage or inflammation of the joints. Instead, the pain is likely caused by changes in how the central nervous system processes pain signals.

In people with fibromyalgia, the brain appears to be more sensitive to pain signals, amplifying them and causing pain even in response to mild stimuli.

Some of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia related to joint pain include:

  • Widespread pain: People with fibromyalgia often experience pain and tenderness throughout their body, including in their joints. The pain may be described as a deep ache or a burning sensation.
  • Stiffness: Joint stiffness is a common symptom of fibromyalgia, particularly in the morning or after prolonged periods of rest.
  • Tender points: A person with fibromyalgia may have specific areas on their body that are particularly sensitive to pressure. These tender points are often located in the neck, shoulders, hips, and knees.

What are the first signs of fibromyalgia joint pain?

The first signs of fibromyalgia vary from person to person. People with fibromyalgia typically experience symptoms that come and go, and these flare-ups don’t necessarily occur in any particular order. You might feel fine one day, and then the next day be unable to get out of bed.

Early signs of fibromyalgia may include:

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not fully understood, and it may even vary from person to person.

The primary theory revolves around differences in how the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) processes pain messages. Currently, fibromyalgia is not thought to be caused by an autoimmune, inflammatory, muscle, or joint disorder.

However, some researchers have begun reconsidering this stance in the past couple of years. There’s currently not enough research to fully understand the relationship between fibromyalgia and autoimmune disease.

Some evidence suggests that fibromyalgia may be linked to a certain type of inflammation, even if there’s no visible damage or inflammation in imaging studies. This inflammation may be related to an overactive immune system.

Overall, fibromyalgia is believed to be a combination of environmental, psychological, and genetic factors.

Some of the potential risk factors for developing fibromyalgia include:

  • Gender: Women are twice as likely than men to develop fibromyalgia.
  • Age: Fibromyalgia can occur at any age, but it’s most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged individuals.
  • Physical or emotional trauma: Some people develop fibromyalgia after experiencing physical or emotional trauma, such as a car accident, surgery, or a traumatic event.
  • Stress: Stress can exacerbate symptoms of fibromyalgia, and may also contribute to the development of the condition.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of exercise or obesity can contribute to developing fibromyalgia or worsening symptoms.
  • Other health conditions: Fibromyalgia may be more likely to develop in people who have other health conditions, such as autoimmune conditions.
  • Genetics: Fibromyalgia may run in families, suggesting a genetic component to the condition.
  • Infectious trigger: In one research study, 27% of people with fibromyalgia reported prior trauma and 20% reported a prior infection.

Fibromyalgia is typically diagnosed by a healthcare professional through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and specific diagnostic criteria. There’s no single test that can definitively diagnose fibromyalgia, and a diagnosis is usually based on ruling out other potential causes of a person’s symptoms.

To diagnose fibromyalgia, a healthcare professional will typically:

  • Perform a physical exam: Your doctor will examine you for signs of tenderness, pain, and stiffness in various parts of the body, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue and sleep disturbances.
  • Take a medical history: A healthcare professional will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and any other relevant information.

Fibromyalgia symptoms can be managed with various treatments including medication, talk therapy, and exercise.

  • Medication: There’s no single medication that works for everyone. Your doctor may recommend antidepressants, over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen), antiseizure drugs (gabapentin), or muscle relaxants.
  • Talk therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used therapies for pain management. A CBT therapist will help you identify and challenge negative thoughts about your condition. You’ll also learn coping strategies for managing pain and set achievable goals for improving your quality of life.
  • Exercise: Exercise is often recommended for people with fibromyalgia. A 2017 review found that aerobic exercise may slightly decrease pain intensity and improve physical function. (No improvement was seen in fatigue and stiffness.) A 2013 review of women with fibromyalgia found that strength training improved their overall well-being and ability to conduct daily tasks. It also reduced pain and tenderness, and improved muscle strength. Meditative movement, such as tai chi, yoga, or aquatic water exercise, may also be beneficial.

Can fibromyalgia be cured?

Currently, there’s no known cure for fibromyalgia, but the pain can often be managed via medication, therapy, and exercise.

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that can be challenging to manage, but with the right treatment and self-care strategies, many people with fibromyalgia can improve their symptoms and lead full and active lives.

If you think you may have fibromyalgia or are experiencing unexplained symptoms such as widespread pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan.