What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that affects the body’s soft tissues and muscles. This condition is a generalized muscular pain condition that is diagnosed via a physical examination. There are no blood tests or chemical tests that would be able to identify fibromyalgia which can make it difficult to diagnose in certain cases. There is a set of symptoms and signs that occur together which would give the doctor an indication that fibromyalgia may be the cause of discomfort. 

There are 18 certain identifiable trigger points or areas of tenderness and discomfort such as lower back, base of the skull, collarbones, and other areas. Fibromyalgia affects 3.4% of women in the United States and approximately only 0.5% of men. About 90% of individuals with fibromyalgia describe a combination of symptoms including:

  • Joint pain
  • Muscular pain including burning, radiating, soreness, stiffness, and aching
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Mood irregularities/disorders 
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Headaches including migraines and tension headaches

These symptoms can, and usually do, coexist in fibromyalgia patients and vary depending on the time of day, the weather, an individual’s stress levels, sleep patterns, and activity levels. Scientific studies show that most people with fibromyalgia have abnormal sleep patterns and interruptions in deep sleep. About 25% of individuals also present with depression at the time of a fibromyalgia diagnosis supporting the connection between mood disorders as well. 

Fibromyalgia and Weight Gain

There is not significant research at this time to support that Fibromyalgia as a condition is the sole cause of weight gain. Fibromyalgia is a generalized pain condition. However, due to the pain associated with this condition along with fatigue, patients may find exercise and daily physical activity more difficult. Lack of exercise can naturally result in weight gain. In addition, there are various other conditions that may closely mimic fibromyalgia that can cause weight gain. The most common of these would be hypothyroidism or low thyroid hormone. This condition can be identified via diagnostic blood tests which may be requested by a health care provider before confirming a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. 

In order to prevent weight gain with fibromyalgia recommended treatments focus heavily on increasing cardiovascular fitness and mobilizing sore, tight muscles. It is natural for patients to be reluctant to exercise due to tiredness and pain, however, movement plays a key role in treatment. Low-impact or no-impact aerobic exercises such as swimming, water aerobics, walking, and biking are great exercises to start with. Exercising on a regular basis can help to greatly reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia and maintain a healthy weight. Stretching and stabilizing muscles is equally as important as exercise. Moving the muscles and joints through an adequate range of motion daily is very helpful. Physical therapy may be helpful for patients with more severe symptoms or those who are looking for more guidance in this area. Techniques including ice, heat, massage, and electrical stimulation are also a benefit of working with physical therapists and/or massage therapists. The combination of stretching and incorporating cardiovascular fitness are treatment strategies to help combat weight gain and alleviate symptoms from fibromyalgia.