Fibromyalgia is not a joint disease, but a musculoskeletal disease

This article is edited by Giovanni Minisola, President Emeritus of the Italian Society of Rheumatology

In Italy, at least 2 million people suffer from it, mainly women. Fibromyalgia manifests as widespread pain in muscles, joints, and bones. Its symptoms may suggest joint disease. In fact, fibromyalgia has nothing to do with arthritis and does not cause deformities in the wrists, elbows, knees, fingers or ankles.

The pain associated with fibromyalgia is so intense that often those who suffer from the disease feel like they are carrying an unbearable burden on themselves. Hence the definition of Atlas disease, the name of the mythological Greek giant rebel against Zeus who was condemned to carry the world on his shoulders.

The symptoms that characterize the disease are:

  1. generalized pain;
  2. sleep disorders;
  3. headache;
  4. fatigue;
  5. joint stiffness;
  6. irritable bowel;
  7. tingling;
  8. menstrual disorders;
  9. feeling of swelling in the hands;
  10. anxiety.

People with fibromyalgia often also have psychological problems, which involve the affective sphere, and mood swings.

Those who, like the fibromyalgia subject, live with chronic pain may feel more easily depressed due to the persistence of symptoms and the difficulty in dealing with them.

In fibromyalgia patients, the pain threshold is reduced due to impaired transmission and perception of painful stimuli in the central nervous system.

Fibromyalgia is sometimes diagnosed late and with difficulty because the symptoms are generic and often similar to those of other illnesses, not just rheumatic in nature.

There are many different factors that can trigger fibromyalgia in a predisposed subject: among them stressful events, illness, excessive fatigue of the body and mind, repeated microtraumas to the muscles.

It is the specialist rheumatologist, with the essential collaboration of the family doctor, who establishes the most suitable “treatment plan” for each person.

Often, a global approach is necessary to treat fibromyalgia, involving several professionals: the rheumatologist first, but also the rehabilitation therapist, the neuropsychiatrist and the psychologist.

In the case of fibromyalgia, drugs that reduce pain and improve the quality of sleep are often prescribed, but not always successfully.

Medications that have proven more effective over the years in treating fibromyalgia are antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and anticonvulsants. Cortisone is contraindicated.

Exercise programs are often combined with medication to relax and reduce muscle tension.

It is always good to avoid humidity and perform regular aerobic activity with low or no impact

Physical activity is usually associated with cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps the patient to live with the disease, to understand it and to accept it.

In all cases, a good doctor-patient relationship is essential.

The answers to the questions are general and indicative. For a detailed opinion, we always recommend that you consult your family doctor who knows the general clinical picture of the patient.

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