Fibromyalgia – It’s Not Just In Your Head

“My doctor says the pain is just in my head.”

Thankfully, I don’t hear that from patients as much as I used to. The most common health complaint this applied to was a set of symptoms now referred to as fibromyalgia. And until recently, many doctors dismissed these symptoms as being purely psychosomatic.

Fibromyalgia (also called Fibromyalgia Syndrome or FMS) is sometimes a bit hard to get a handle on since it can show up in a variety of ways. The most common symptoms are chronic widespread pain and a heightened and painful response to pressure on muscles and tissues.

But there are also other symptoms in addition to pain. These can include extreme fatigue, difficulties sleeping, and stiff joints. Sometimes depression, anxiety or brain fog accompany the symptoms.

As you can tell, fibromyalgia is not fun.

So imagine how difficult it is to be going through all that only to be told by your physician that “it’s all in your head.” Not very helpful.

Fortunately, in the past few years research has uncovered some of the underlying problems associated with fibromyalgia. That research used MRI imaging to identify brain changes associated with FMS symptoms. Most of the FMS symptoms are associated with inflammation.

But you don’t have to get an MRI to know if you have FMS. The official criteria for a diagnosis is:

  1. Widespread pain lasting more than three months, affecting all four quadrants of the body, i.e., both sides, and above and below the waist.
  2. Tender points – 11 of 18 possible tender points are reactive to moderate pressure. (Although a person with the disorder may feel pain in other areas as well). Here’s a drawing showing the 18 points:
18 fibromyalgia tender points

And of course if this pain is accompanied by sleep problems, depression, foggy brain, etc., then there is a greater likelihood it’s FMS.

More importantly, if you have symptoms like any of the above and your doctor can’t find anything wrong, the thing you most want is relief…

How To Treat FMS

The typical medical approach for FMS is a combination of exercise, prescription medications and occasionally nutritional supplements. Results from this approach are generally mixed.

My approach is somewhat different because I start with the assumption that something internal is driving the inflammation, which in turn is creating the symptoms. That means a bit of detective work is needed to get to these deeper issues and correct them.

Of course each person will be different, so it’s not possible to give a comprehensive list of things to look for here. Even so, there are some general triggers that you can watch out for:

  • Sugar in any form is very often a big contributing factor. By “in any form” I mean white sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, sucrose, fructose, dried fruit and fruit juice (even ‘all natural’).
  • Processed foods are not natural nutrition for the body. Avoid anything in a can, a jar, a box, a bottle or a package.
  • Exercise is important. Ironically, when you are tired, in pain and possibly depressed, you don’t feel much like exercise. I generally recommend that people gradually add increasing amounts of movement into their routine. This can be as easy as taking a 5 minute walk every day if that’s all someone can do.

Depending on the pattern of symptoms, there may be some vitamins, herbs and amino acids that will help. Again, these are so specific to an individual that it doesn’t make sense to mention them here.

I’ve seen many cases of patients completely eliminate their FMS symptoms with the correct approach. If you’d like more information about effective treatments for fibromyalgia, please contact me by clicking here.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce


Hyperhealth Pro Database, In-Tele-Health, Hansville, WA, 2008.

Singh, B. B., et al. “Effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of fibromyalgia.” Altern Ther Health Med. 2006.

Merchant, R. E., et al. “A review of recent clinical trials of the nutritional supplement Chlorella pyrenoidosa in the treatment of fibromyalgia, hypertension, and ulcerative colitis.” Altern Ther Health Med. 7(3):79-91, 2001.

McMakin, C. et al. Cytokine changes with microcurrent treatment of fibromyalgia associated with cervical spine trauma. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 9:169-176, 2005.

Fibromyalgia Pain Isn’t All In Patient’s Heads, University of Michigan Health Services, June, 2002.

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