A doctor explains away the mystery of fibromyalgia, and how to get help now

Dr. Lumbago,

I hope you can help me.  I have had pains all over my body for a long time, actually since around the time right after my 2nd child was born when I was 28 years old. People think I am making it up when I tell them how much I hurt all over, like it is something I say to get attention or sympathy.  Some days the pain seems to move around but I seem to always hurt somewhere like in my knees or shoulders or neck and low back and the base of my skull.  And my joints are so stiff and the low back pain some days is so bad it is hard to get out of bed.  Some days it is worse than others but it is always there. Mostly, my back is really stiff and painful and the other joint pain seems to travel around. It makes it almost impossible to sleep and I wake up at night so I can’t get back to sleep and because of this I am really tired all the time. A friend of mine cut out a magazine article for me about fibromyalgia and it sounded just like me. I have most of the symptoms that were mentioned in that story, but it also said that some doctors are not convinced that there is really a physical problem like fibromyalgia . 

Can you give me some ideas about what is wrong with me if it is not a real physical problem? Like, what is fibromyalgia? Does it really exist? I am asking because many years ago I talked to my family doctor about fibromyalgia and he said that was just a name for a condition when there is pain in people’s heads or when they are just complainers about little aches and pains that everyone gets. He gave me a prescription for depression and told me to get a hobby and try not to be so worried about myself. Now this name has come again I need to know what to do.



Greetings Brenda,

I have the disadvantage of not being able to examine you, so I can only speculate what your problem might be.  I suggest you go to a rheumatologist in your area for a complete evaluation.  My suspicion is that you will be given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia; I could be wrong, but I doubt it.  Fibromyalgia is the most common musculoskeletal condition in a doctor’s office after the cases of osteoarthritis, so the odds are strong this could be your problem.  Get this done so you will know for sure what you are dealing with.    

What is fibromyalgia?

Perhaps 20-30 years ago the medical profession did not believe there was really a problem like fibromyalgia.  Most medical patients who came in with complaints like you mention in your email were written off as being overly sensitive to minor discomfort, or having emotional problems.  They were not treated seriously and often were given a tranquilizer or depression medication just to get them out of the office.  During that time it was only the chiropractors and naturopaths who took these patients seriously. They were treated holistically with an emphasis primarily toward looking upon fibromyalgia as the symptomatic expression of various allergies. 

In the past I have treated many hundreds of people like you from an allergy standpoint – and usually got great results.  Usually these allergies were less common than the usual cat fur and egg allergies; most often we were allergies to things like gluten, wheat, dairy and MSG. Also many nutritional products are used to look for a strategy that can give pain relief; these are sometimes successful but usually are found by a process of trial and error.  Be patient in this search because help can often be found over time with persistence.   Regardless, I suggest you investigate this aspect of your problem to see if there is not some allergy that is triggering this systemic pain and fatigue you have.

One of the things about fibromyalgia is that there is no known cause for this problem when it is looked at from the usual medical perspective.  The best current explanation for the cause of fibromyalgia is that it is a disorder of the brain that causes the pain sensation to be amplified in the patient; it is like their pain processors are set on “high” so that what every pain sensation is experienced at a greater than normal level.  However, if this is true it is possible that this brain processing problem is due to an allergic response so it does nothing to minimize the possibility your problem is related in whole or in part to an allergic reaction.  

Because there is no known cause for fibromyalgia it is called a syndrome, rather than a disease. A health problem is called a syndrome when there is no known or identified causes, but it does display a well-defined but limited list of common symptoms that are associated with it. In a syndrome is identified by a pattern of common symptoms and related medical problems in the patient history. A large variety of common complaints make up a problem like fibromyalgia, but only a few might be present in any particular patient.  This makes it difficult to diagnose fibromyalgia and is the reason that the medical profession doubted it existed for many years.

Fibromyalgia is a fairly common condition that is characterized by chronic and severe pain and stiffness in muscles or ligaments in many areas of the body that tends to change from day to day. Someone with fibromyalgia does not have a clear pattern of pain.  They might have severe knee and hip pain one day, severe headaches the next, and elbow pain the next day.

I have a suspicion you have other health problems and complaints that you did not mention in your email because you do not know they could be related to fibromyalgia.  These problems (poor memory, frequent diarrhea, depression, etc.) could be something you have learned to put up with because they tend to not respond to usual medical treatment because they are a part of the larger allergy problem just like your traveling pains.  So check this list out for other things that might respond well if you can solve your allergy problem.  In addition to body pain and tenderness to light finger tip pressure, other symptoms are numerous and variable in fibromyalgia:

  • abdominal pain
  • anxiety and depression
  • chronic headaches
  • difficulty maintaining sleep or light sleep
  • dryness in mouth, nose, and eyes
  • fatigue upon arising
  • headaches that affect the entire head
  • hypersensitivity to cold and/or heat
  • inability to concentrate (called “fibro fog”)
  • incontinence
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • memory problems
  • menstrual complaints
  • morning stiffness
  • numbness or tingling in fingers and feet
  • sleep disorders, such as insomnia or very light sleep for short periods
  • stiffness of any major joint

I hope this information and background helps you, Brenda.  This is not an easy problem to deal with, but with persistence I have seen many people either get rid of most or all of their complaints.

Good luck. I encourage you to ask around your circle of friends to learn of doctors in your area – MDs, chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths – who are actively working with fibromyalgia cases and helping people with this nasty problem. 

Brenda, please let me know how it works out for you.   DL