Fibromyalgia & Chronic Myofascial Pain Information
A Frequently Missed Diagnosis
No matter what your specialty or title, if you are a medical care
provider or in related fields, you have seen patients or clients with
fibromyalgia and/or myofascial trigger points. These conditions are very
real, and they are not the same. This has been documented in the medical
literature. This does mean that you need to be able to recognize two
distinct medical conditions. Once you grasp the concepts behind these
conditions, your life, your job, and the lives of those who come to you
for help will be greatly changed. Many of your "problem" patients and
clients can look forward to a greatly improved quality of life, and you
can take great satisfaction in knowing that you can make a remarkable
difference in their lives.
These conditions need not be difficult to diagnose and treat. On this
website, you will find well documented information that will help you
FMS is not new. It was first described by William Balfour, a surgeon at
the University of Edinburgh, in 1816. The medical profession called it
many different names, including chronic rheumatism, myalgia, pressure
point syndrome, and fibrositis. The condition was also thought to be
psychological by some physicians, but that notion must now be relegated
to the Dark Ages of medicine.
In 1987, the American Medical Association (AMA), recognized FMS as a
true illness and a major cause of disability. Now, nearly ten years
later, it is still ,unfortunately, too often dismissed as the "newest
fad disease", and most physicians still lack the training to diagnose
and treat it.
FMS is not a catchall, "wastebasket" diagnosis. FMS is a specific,
chronic non-degenerative, non-progressive, noninflammatory, truly
systemic pain condition. Diseases have known causes and well-understood
mechanisms for producing symptoms. FMS is called a syndrome, which means
it is a specific set of signs and symptoms that occur together. Don't
let this fool you into thinking that fibromyalgia is any less serious or
potentially disabling than a disease. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and
other serious afflictions are also classified as syndromes. Lab tests
for fibromyalgia are valid only to rule out other conditions. There is
no blood test that can accurately identify fibromyalgia.
The official definition for patients to be admitted into clinical study
requires that tender points must be present in all four quadrants of the
body -- that is, the upper right and left and lower right and left parts
of your body. You must have had widespread, more-or-less continuous pain
for at least three months. Because tender points can fluctuate and vary
from day to day. Tender points occur in pairs on various parts of the
body. Because they occur in pairs, the pain is usually distributed
equally on both sides of the body. In traumatic FMS, tender points are
often clustered around an injury instead of, or in addition to, the 18
"official" points. These clusters can also occur around a repetitive
strain or a degenerative and/or inflammatory problem, such as arthritis.
Localized pain usually indicates a co-existing condition, such as
Chronic myofascial pain (CMP).
FMS can occur at any age. Most patients, when questioned carefully,
reveal that their symptoms began at an early age. About 25 percent of
the FMS patients I see are men. This ratio differs from most sources in
the literature. I think that this is due to FMS being underdiagnosed in
males. Flu-like achiness is frequently the most prominent symptom of
FMS, but there are many others. For example, your eyes may be too dry,
but at other times they will water. Your thermal regulatory system is
out of whack. You may notice this thermal fluctuation when you get out
of bed (which may be often, due to bladder irritability) during the
night. You may have to wait for your temperature to cool down after
getting back in bed before you can pull the bedcover up. Another symptom
of FMS is spasticity (tightness) which can constrict the peripheral
blood vessels -- those close to the skin. This symptom, especially in
the winter, makes certain parts of our bodies -- most often the buttocks
and thighs -- feel like cold slabs of meat. You may experience skin
mottling, and nail ridges Fingernails can break off, often in
crescent-shaped pieces. If nails do grow, they sometimes start to curve
FMS is a sensitivity-amplification syndrome. This means that people with
Fibromyalgia can be sensitive to smells, sounds, lights, odors, pressure
and temperature fluctuations and vibrations. The noise emitted by
fluorescent lights can drive you crazy. FMS sensitizes nerve endings as
well as the rest of the autonomic nervous system, which means that the
ends of the nerve receptors may have changed shape. Because of this, for
example, your body might interpret touch, light, or sound as pain. Your
brain knows pain is a danger signal -- an indication that something is
wrong and needs attention -- so it mobilizes its defenses. Then, when
those defenses aren't used, you become anxious.
Sleep plays a crucial role in FMS. Perhaps you aren't getting enough
sleep, or the right kind of sleep. You may have insomnia, or a host of
other sleep-related problems. People with FMS often have the alpha-delta
sleep anomaly. As soon as we reach deep delta level sleep, alpha waves
(awake) intrude and either jolt us to an awakening or to a lighter stage
of sleep. Our body heals and many neurotransmitters are restored during
delta sleep, so we soon suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation.
Neurotransmitters are electro-biochemical agents that cross nerve
synapses. They are the vehicles that carry information back and forth
between your body and mind. One might say that neurotransmitters are the
"information superhighway" between the body and mind.
Much of our mental and physical sense of continuity and security depends
upon our ability to repeat appropriate and predictable actions. This is
disrupted in FMS. Neurotransmitters normally inform muscles constantly
about what they're doing, so their actions can be modified. Much of our
muscle tension function is improperly controlled by these
neurotransmitters. Healthy people think nothing of picking up a glass of
water and bringing it to their lips. They know just how tightly their
hand has to grip, how heavy the glass of water feels, and how much speed
is appropriate to accomplish this act smoothly. people with
Fibromyalgia, however, lack proper sensory feedback. The thumb grasps
with too little pressure, and the wrist muscle lets go when flexed. The
economy of effort is not there. To enable us to sit , walk, and stand,
the entire musculature must be able to feel its own activity, and we
often can't do that.
Only about 20% of FMS cases have a known triggering event that initiates
the first obvious "flare." During a flare, current symptoms become more
intense, and new symptoms frequently develop.
Myofascial pain is probably the most common cause of musculoskeletal
pain in medical practice (Imamura, Fischer, Imamura et al.1997). It is a
vital factor in the practice of internists, in physical medicine and
rehabilitation, internal medicine, gynecology, rheumatology, neurology,
pediatrics, gastroenterology, proctology, cardiology, and just about any
other specialty you can think of. Pain from myofascial dysfunction is
probably at the source of many of your symptoms. So why is there so
little common knowledge about the myofascia?
Fascial and facial are similar words with two different meanings,
although you do have fascia under your face In the United States, the
word "fascia" is usually pronounced "fashia", similar to "fashion". In
other English-speaking countries, the word is often pronounced "fassia".
Many doctors prefer to avoid mentioning the word entirely. Most doctors
don't know a lot about the workings of the myofascia. One way doctors
learn about anatomy is through cadaver dissection. Dead, embalmed fascia
has little in common with living fascia. The magic is gone.
A small change in the myofascia can cause great stress to other parts of
your body. Restriction of one major joint in a lower extremity can
increase the energy expenditure of normal walking by as much as 40%,
and, if two major joints are restricted in the same extremity, it can
increase by as much as 300% (Greenmar, 1996). Multiple minor
restrictions of movement, particularly in the maintenance of normal
gait, can also have a detrimental effect upon total body function
In "Principles of Manual Medicine" (Greenman, 1996), the author finds it
convenient to separate fascia into three layers, but remember as you
read this that it is all continuous and three dimensional. Superficial
fascia is attached to the underside of your skin. Capillary channels and
lymph vessels run through this layer, and so do many nerves. The
subcutaneous fat is attached to it. If your superficial fascia is
healthy, your skin can move fluidly over the surface of your muscles. In
FMS and CMP, it is often stuck. In the superficial fascia, there is a
great potential to store excess fluid and metabolites, which are the
breakdown products of informational substances and other chemicals in
your body. This is the area of fascia that often is the easiest to
palpate. Palpation is the art and skill of being able to touch
meaningfully, interpreting what the skin and fascia are willing to tell
about your state of health.
Deep fascia is much tougher and denser material. Your body uses deep
fascia to separate large sections, such as the abdominal cavity. Deep
fascia covers some areas like huge sheets, protecting them and giving
them shape. Deep fascia also separates your muscles and organs. The
bag-like covering around your heart (the pericardium), the lining of
your chest cavity the pleura), and the area between your external
genital and your anus (the perineum) are all made up of specialized deep
There is a third layer of fascia, called sub serous fascia. This is
loose tissue that covers your internal organs and holds the rich network
of blood and lymph vessels that keep them moist. Even your cells have a
type of cytoskeleton connected to fascia network, which is what gives
your cells shape and allows them to function. Myofascia is fascia that
is related to muscle tissue. Healthy myofascia allows for compression
and tension, as well as relaxation.
The dural tube is another fascial connection. This is the tube
surrounding and protects your spinal cord, and it contains the
cerebrospinal fluid. This tube is connected to the membranes surrounding
your brain. Together, they hold and protect your craniosacral system.
Fascia is also the material that forms adhesions and scar tissue. When
you are healthy, your ground substance has a gelatinous consistency so
that it can absorb the forces that are created when you move, or if you
are involved in trauma. When the ground substance hardens, it's as if
glue or cement has been poured into our fascial spaces (Barnes, 1990).
When this happens, it isn't enough for a therapist to break up
cross-links. They need to return your ground substance to its healthy,
more fluid state.
In the myofascia there is a material called ground substance. The ground
substance part of the fascia can be like a loose gelatin, or like
gel-foam medical packing, or like sprayed on Styrofoam insulation. It
can harden and lose its elasticity. When ground substance changes from a
liquid to a gel, and then into its more solid form, the myofascia
tightens. It won't reverse to its previous more liquid state without
outside intervention. One of the main jobs of the ground substance is
transferring nutrients from where they are broken down into usable
materials to their place where they will be used, and to remove the
waste products from these areas of use. This exchange and transport
through diffusion takes part in the ground substance.
Another important job for your ground substance is to maintain the
distance between connective tissue fibers. This prevents microadhesions
from forming, and keeps your tissues supple and elastic. When the
critical distance is not maintained, the fibers become cross-linked by
newly synthesized collagen, which are also part of the fascia. Collagen
crosslinks are arranged haphazardly, unlike healthy linkages, and are
hard to break up.
Sheets of fibrous myofascial adhesion can form anywhere along nerves and
block normal healthy function. Too often, fascia has been considered by
the medical world as merely packing material, simply a connective tissue
between areas of function. The mobility, elasticity, and slipperiness of
living fascia can never be appreciated by dissecting embalmed cadavers
in medical school (Leahy and Mock 1992).
Where muscles and tendons, bones and ligaments come together, there are
areas of attachment. The cellular membranes in these attachment areas
can become extremely convoluted, which increases the surface area and
changes the angle of force. This increases the potential for things to
get stuck together , and causes the tissue there to become more easily
torn (Simons, Travell and Simons, 1999).
MYOFASCIAL TRIGGER POINTS
Trigger Points (TrPs) are found as extremely sore points occurring in
ropy bands throughout the body. They can also be felt as painful lumps
of hardened fascia. The bands are often easier to feel along the arms
and legs. If you stretch your muscle about 2/3 of the way out, you might
be able to feel them. Sometimes the muscles get so tight that you can't
feel the lumps, or even the tight bands. Your muscle feels like
"hardened concrete". TrPs can occur in the myofascia, skin, ligaments,
bone lining, and other tissues. They can be caused by a surgical
incision, as is often the case with abdominal surgery. You have probably
never heard of TrPs, yet they are quite common. Each specific TrP on the
body has a referred pain or other symptom pattern that is carefully
documented in the Trigger Point Manuals.
The first time I opened the Trigger Point Manuals ("Myofascial Pain and
Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual Vol I & II" by Janet Travell M.D.
and David Simons M.D.), I was dumbfounded. After being told for so many
years by medical experts that the pain patterns I described did not and
could not exist, seeing them illustrated in a medical text brought a
flood of emotions. I felt so relieved I cried. I felt validated. Then,
as the truth started to hit home, I started to get angry. Why didn't
these "experts" have knowledge of Travell and Simons' work? Why hadn't I
learned about these texts in medical school! Most specific pains
commonly attributed to FMS are actually from trigger points. TrPs seem
to form throughout life as a response to many things that happen to our
bodies. Overuse, repetitive motion trauma, bruises, strains, joint
problems, etc. Pain creates a neuromuscular response, and the muscle
around the pain site tightens, "guarding" the hurt area.
When muscles are in a state of sustained tension, they are working, even
if you're not. A working muscle needs more nutrition and oxygen, and
produces more waste, than a muscle at rest. This creates an area in the
myofascia starved for food and oxygen, and loaded with toxic waste -- a
Dr. Janet Travell, in her autobiography, "Office Hours Day and Night"
explains how dizziness, ringing of the ears, loss of balance, and other
symptoms can all be caused by TrPs in the side of the neck, in the
muscle group called the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) complex.
has many functions, one of which is to hold your head up. Receptors in
the SCM complex transmit nerve impulses inform the brain of the position
of the head and body in the surrounding space. With TrPs, the receptors
lies. What they tell the brain is not what the eyes tell the brain. If
there are TrPs in the muscles of the the eyes, they are lying too --
only probably not in the same way as the SCM. When head movement changes
the SCM message -- when you turn, or look up from changing kitty litter,
you get dizzy. This, coupled with poor balance, can make it seem that
the walls are tilting. When we take corners while driving, we get the
impression that we're "banking" the turn at a steep angle, as if we're
on a motorcycle. Cold drafts alone can bring on neck TrPs. And be
careful how you move in bed. When you turn, roll with your head flat,
and use your arms to help. Don't lift your head and "lead with it" as
you roll. That puts a great strain on the neck area and electrically
"loads" the SCM TrPs, just as climbing steps or walking uphill "loads"
the muscles of the thighs. This means that the electrical potential of
the muscles are changed, and the change is not to our benefit.
symptom of SCM TrPs is a "drunken" walk, as we bump into doorways and
An active TrP not only hurts when it is pressed, like an FMS
tender point, but it "triggers" a referred pain pattern somewhere else
in the body.
This pain pattern is similar from patient to patient. These
trigger points often produce other symptoms, also usually in the
referred pain zone. Such a TrP hurts whenever you use the involved
muscle. When the point becomes very active, pain and other symptoms
occur even when the muscle is at rest.
The fact that these pain patterns
are very much similar from patient to patient really helps make a
diagnosis IF the person doing the diagnosing is familiar with the
patterns so well described by Travell and Simons. That's why familiarity
with TrPs and an ability to take a good medical history is so important.
An educated doctor will know where to look for TrPs before the physical
exam begins.A "latent" type of TrP also occurs. The latent TrP doesn't
hurt at all, unless you press it. You might not even know it's there,
but your body does. It restricts movement, weakens, and prevents full
lengthening of the affected muscle. If you press on the TrP, it refers
pain in its characteristic pattern. Latent TrPs may be activated by
overstretching, overuse, or chilling the muscle.
People who get little
exercise have a greater chance of developing latent points. This is
important, because some people feel that by restricting their range of
motion, they are getting rid of their TrPs. Nothing can be farther from
the truth. Physical stress isn't the only thing that can cause TrPs.
Tension TrPs can occur. These are not the psychological result of
tension, but they are physiological biological effects of long term
emotional abuse or mental trauma. If you are constantly holding your
muscles tight in a "fight-or-flight" stress response, this changes your
body patterns. When you have TrPs, muscle strength becomes unreliable.
You may have also have noticed that if one part of your body turns over
another while you sleep, the part being compressed goes numb. Some other
symptoms include: stiffness, muscle tightness and weakness, localized
sweating, tearing, salivation, poor balance, dizziness, nausea,
tinnitus, goosebumps, runny nose, buckling knees, weak ankles, illegible
handwriting, staggering gait, headaches, and muscle cramps.
TrPs often form as a result of other medical conditions. A case of
arthritis may be otherwise well managed, for example, but the
accompanying TrPs are overlooked. The pain load of that patient could be
substantially lessened if the secondary TrPs were treated successfully.
CHRONIC MYOFASCIAL PAIN
If TrPs are treated immediately and vigorously, and perpetuating factors
(conditions that aggravate and perpetuate the TrPs, are avoided or
remedied, TrPs can be eliminated. Unfortunately, if TrPs are left
untreated, are inappropriately treated, or muscle action is restricted
to avoid pain, the TrP usually becomes latent. If the muscle is pushed
to work in spite of the pain, especially if perpetuating factors exist,
active TrPs may develop secondary and satellite TrPs.
Secondary trigger points develop when a muscle is subject to stress
because another muscle with a trigger point isn't doing its job.
Satellite TrPs develop when a muscle is in a referred pain zone of
another TrP. Without proper intervention, and with perpetuating factors,
the TrPs can lead to severe and widespread chronic myofascial pain
Developing secondary and satellite TrPs can give the false impression
that CMP is a condition that will steadily worsen with time -- that it
is progressive. CMP is not progressive. With proper intervention, these
trigger points can be broken up and eliminated.
FMS and CMP are different syndromes. However, the vast majority of
physicians lump them together because they see many patients with the
FMS & CMP Complex. Unless doctors have a thorough knowledge of and
familiarity with individual TrPs, they can't sort out the symptoms. One
interesting difference between the two syndromes is that more women than
men have FMS, but CMP affects men and women in equal numbers. Another
difference is that muscles in locations that are some distance from the
trigger points of CMP have normal sensitivity. In FMS, there is a
FMS is, among other things, a systemic neurotransmitter dysregulation,
with many biochemical causes. There are other problems as well, but they
are all systemic in nature, such as the alpha-delta sleep anomaly.
Chronic Myofascial Pain, however, is a neuromuscular condition. CMP
happens because of mechanical failures -- the mechanics of physics, not
biochemistry. Due to the nature of trigger points, some of the symptoms
may seem to be systemic, but they are not. Initiating events, such as
repetitive motion injury, trauma, and illness, can start a cascade of
FMS & CMP COMPLEX
People with the FMS & CMP Complex face more than just the two sets of
symptoms of both conditions. Today, a few researchers are realizing that
FMS and CMP not only occur together, they reinforce each other.
Therefore, physical therapy and all other forms of treatment must
proceed carefully. Any treatment regimen will be both more complicated
and less successful than if the patient had only one of the two
In FMS & CMP Complex, a chronic pain condition exists, with many
different symptoms and the trigger points of CMP, which are all
magnified by the pain amplification aspect of fibromyalgia (FMS).
Furthermore, some of the treatments normally prescribed for FMS patients
can cause damage to CMP patients, and the reverse is also true. In the
context of FMS, many different neurotransmitters are affected to
different degrees and in different combinations in each patient. Also,
other biochemicals in the body are affected to different degrees.
Various hormones may be involved. Histamine (a neurotransmitter) is
often a important factor when there are many allergic manifestations.
The possible combinations are endless, so this is no place for a doctor
who practices "cookbook" medicine, especially when you figure in the
possible combinations of TrPs. FMS perpetuates CMP and the reverse is
also true. The spiral of pain/contraction/pain/contraction continues
until it is interrupted by an outside force in some form. Chronic pain,
all by itself, causes stress and lack of sleep. That's another reason
why many cases of FMS are accompanied by CMP. But don't despair. A lot
can be done to relieve CMP and lighten the pain load. There are many
therapies that work for FMS as well. It's important for people with FMS
& CMP Complex to take on the responsibility of managing their own
treatment. It isn't easy, and it takes concentrated focus to change the
habits of a lifetime. Getting as well as possible -- optimizing your
quality of life -- takes commitment. What is done to or for you can
help, but getting better is primarily a function of what YOU do.