Have you ever tried looking up your fibromyalgia symptoms online? Did you notice a lot of conflicting information? Everyone is an expert, right? One group says this, another says that. Well, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know what I experience. I recently discovered that 72% of FM patients suffer from joint pain with fibromyalgia. But when I tried to find the reasons why, I immediately came across conflicting information. I know fibromyalgia is loaded with mystery, but the uncertainty really makes it hard to figure out how to treat this thing. So what exactly is the deal here? What is causing the joint pain?
The Rheumatic Camp
Some researchers and physicians say that fibromyalgia is a rheumatic disease. So let’s look at what that even means. The American College of Rheumatology describes rheumatic conditions as musculoskeletal and systemic autoimmune diseases. “Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system sends inflammation to areas of the body when it is not needed causing damage/symptoms. These diseases can also affect the eyes, skin, nervous system and internal organs…. Common diseases treated by rheumatologists include osteoarthritis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic back pain, tendinitis, and lupus.”
These conditions inevitably effect the joints. Experts in this camp say that fibromyalgia is a rheumatic disease that attacks muscles and tendons that support joints. This leads to stiffness and pain, not to mention disturbances in sleep. Rheumatic diseases actually cause damage and/or inflammation to the joints, muscles, or tissues. So that’s why you experience joint pain with fibromyalgia. But is that what’s happening with fibromyalgia?
The Non-Rheumatic Camp
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases disagrees. They explicitly state that “inflammation is not a symptom of fibromyalgia.” In fact, it is not listed as a symptom with the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association, the Mayo Clinic, or the National Fibromyalgia Association.
Ok, so what’s really going on here then? Well, again, I’m not expert, but my own symptoms have led me to so much research on this condition. One thing I have found is a lot of overlap with fibromyalgia and other conditions. Experts are certain of this one: fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis definitely produce some similar symptoms. In particular, are muscle pain, morning stiffness, fatigue, and loss of mobility and range of motion. Indeed, both conditions even experience flares wherein symptoms may be more exacerbated, as opposed to other times when they are virtually non-existent. The similarities are often so close for certain patients, that it usually takes a rheumatologist to make an accurate diagnosis of one condition or the other. And fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis are treated quite differently so an accurate diagnosis is essential to effective treatment.
Then What’s Causing the Joint Pain with Fibromyalgia?
Many people with fibromyalgia swear that their joints are swollen, yet there is no physical evidence of inflammation as is the case with arthritis. In some cases, it’s very possible and somewhat likely that you are experiencing another condition all together. For example, many fibromyalgia patients have TMJ syndrome which produces facial and jaw pain or tenderness. In fact, if you are actually experiencing visible swelling in your joints, then it’s possible you are dealing with rheumatoid arthritis as well as fibromyalgia. Lupus and osteoarthritis are also possibilities in this case. There is another disease called ankylosing spondylitis that is a chronic, progressive, and inflammatory disease of the spinal joints.
In other words, when you have fibromyalgia, it may feel like your joints are swollen and filled with pain. However, if there is no sign of inflammation (e.g., swelling and/or redness), then you are not likely dealing with a rheumatic disease that causes damage and potential deformation. It apparently is just part of some of the unknowns surrounding fibromyalgia.
You probably want to shoot me right now, don’t you? I mean I haven’t exactly answered the question of what is causing joint pain with fibromyalgia. The answers are all over the place, frankly. Remember that when you look into this question, you too will find very specific answers as to why joint pain is occurring. But if you keep looking, you will find the complete opposite answers. The bottom line is that it’s happening, with or without a reason. Your best bet is to go to a doctor, especially a rheumatologist, neurologist, or osteopath. Even though fibromyalgia probably doesn’t qualify as a rheumatic disease, a rheumatologist is exposed to fibromyalgia on a regular basis. A neurologist will often point to the central nervous system as the culprit and with good reason. An osteopath will look at the whole person and evaluate the big picture rather than honing in on one or two symptoms. Any of these are excellent physician choices for treating fibromyalgia.
Do you experience joint pain with fibromyalgia? What does your health care professional say is the reason? Do you agree? Why or why not?