While fibromyalgia is often thought to affect middle-aged adults, it can also occur in children, particularly teen girls.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue. It’s believed to be caused by the abnormal processing of pain signals in the central nervous system, leading to heightened pain sensations throughout the body.

While fibromyalgia is often thought as a condition that middle-aged adults experience, children and teenagers can develop it as well. Here’s what it looks like in young people.

Yes, fibromyalgia can occur in children and adolescents. It is commonly known as juvenile fibromyalgia syndrome (JFMS).

A 2019 study estimated that JFMS occurs in about 1%–6% of children in the United States and is more common among teen girls.

In the United States, JFMS occurs in:

  • 0.5%–1% of children ages 0–4 years
  • 1%–1.4% of children ages 5–9 years
  • 2%–2.6% of children ages 10–14 years
  • 3.5%–6.2% of teens ages 15–19 years

JFMS is a chronic condition in which children experience ongoing muscle pain throughout their body and have multiple sensitive points that may hurt when touched.

Symptoms in children and teens may include:

  • Widespread pain: Children with fibromyalgia may complain of pain in several areas of their body, such as the muscles, joints, and soft tissues.
  • Fatigue: Children may experience persistent fatigue or feel tired even after a good night’s sleep.
  • Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up without feeling refreshed are common issues associated with fibromyalgia.
  • Cognitive difficulties: Children may have difficulty focusing or remembering things. They may experience brain fog.
  • Mood disturbances: Fibromyalgia can be accompanied by mood changes, such as irritability, anxiety, or depression.
  • Headaches: Recurrent headaches, including tension headaches and migraine attacks, are common in children with fibromyalgia.
  • Sensitivity to touch: Children may be more sensitive to touch or have a heightened sensitivity to pain.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome: Children with JFMS often experience symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome, such as abdominal cramping, bloating, and a feeling of urgency to use the bathroom.

A 2017 study of 34 teens with JFMS and 31 teens without the condition found that those with JFMS showed greater sensitivity to pressure pain.

In addition, the increased sensitivity to pain was not influenced by anxiety levels. This suggests that pain may not only be anxiety but rather by changes in the central nervous system involved in pain perception.

The diagnosis of fibromyalgia in children — which typically occurs between ages 13 and 15 — involves a comprehensive evaluation of the child’s medical history, a physical examination, and an assessment of their symptoms.

Healthcare professionals may use diagnostic criteria from the American College of Rheumatology to support the diagnosis.

These criteria include the presence of widespread pain and tenderness in specific areas of the body for at least 3 months, along with other symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and concentration or memory issues.

How do you test for fibromyalgia in children?

There is no specific test for fibromyalgia. A healthcare professional will make a diagnosis based on the presence of widespread pain and other characteristic symptoms. They may also do testing to make sure there is not another possible cause for the child’s symptoms.

The standard of care for children with fibromyalgia involves a multidisciplinary approach, combining behavioral and exercise-based therapies and sometimes medication.

Some possible treatment approaches for children with fibromyalgia include:

  • Education and self-management: Teaching children about fibromyalgia and explaining the condition can help them better manage symptoms and making any necessary lifestyle modifications.
  • Physical therapy: Tailored exercise programs and physical therapy may improve flexibility, strength, and overall physical function.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT sessions can help children focus on coping strategies and stress management and improve sleep patterns.
  • Medications: Prescribed medications such as pain relievers, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants may help manage pain, improve sleep, and address other symptoms.
  • Complementary therapies: Approaches like acupuncture, massage therapy, or relaxation techniques may provide symptom relief.

Supporting a child with fibromyalgia can make a significant difference in managing the condition. Here are some ways you can provide support:

  • Educate yourself: Learn about fibromyalgia, its symptoms, and treatment options to help you better understand your child’s condition and how to support them effectively.
  • Encourage self-care: Teach your child the importance of self-care and provide them with tools and strategies to manage their symptoms. This can include relaxation techniques, gentle physical exercise, proper sleep hygiene habits, and a balanced diet.
  • Communicate openly: Be a good listener and validate your child’s experiences. Maintain open and honest communication to create a safe space for them to discuss their challenges.
  • Create a supportive environment: Make adjustments at home and school to accommodate your child’s needs. This can include creating a calm and comfortable bedroom, advocating for accommodations at school, and helping them balance their activities to prevent excess fatigue.

Fibromyalgia in children, also called juvenile fibromyalgia syndrome, or JFMS, is a chronic condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and symptoms such as fatigue and sensitivity to touch.

The condition is typically diagnosed between ages 15–19 years and treated via a multidisciplinary approach using cognitive therapies — such as like CBT — exercise, and sometimes medication.

Receiving proper treatment, being in a supportive environment, and talking openly about their symptoms and experiences can help children manage their condition and improve their overall well-being.