Fibromyalgia is a common syndrome in which people experience long-term, body-wide pain and tender points in joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues.

Fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms.

The cause of this disorder is unknown. Although none have been well proven, possible causes or triggers of fibromyalgia include:

  • Physical or emotional trauma
  • An abnormal pain response. Areas in the brain that are responsible for pain may react differently in fibromyalgia patients.
  • Sleep disturbances, which are common in fibromyalgia patients.
  • An infectious microbe, such as a virus. At this point, no such virus or microbe has been identified.

Men and women of all ages get fibromyalgia, but the disorder is most common among women aged 20 to 50.

The following conditions may be seen with fibromyalgia or mimic its symptoms:

  • Chronic neck or back pain
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Depression
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Lyme disease
  • Sleep disorders

The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is pain.

  • The exact locations of the pain are called tender points. Tender points are found in the soft tissue on the back of the neck, shoulders, sternum, lower back, hips, shins, elbows, and knees. The pain then spreads out from these areas.
  • The pain is described as deep-aching, radiating, gnawing, shooting or burning, and ranges from mild to severe.
  • The joints are not affected, although the pain may feel like it is coming from the joints.
  • People with fibromyalgia tend to wake up with body aches and stiffness. For some patients, pain improves during the day and increases again during the evening, though many patients have day-long, non-stop pain.
  • Pain can increase with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety, and stress.

Fatigue and problems with sleep are seen in almost all patients with fibromyalgia. Many complain that they can't get to sleep or stay asleep, and they feel tired when they wake up.

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a poorly understood condition characterized by chronic diffuse musculoskeletal pain.

A study by McNally et al describes the self-reported epidemiology of FM in Canada using data collected from the Canadian Community Health Survey, Cycle 1.1 (2000). FM prevalence rates with corresponding 95 percent confidence intervals were calculated. The Canadian prevalence rate was 1.1 percent with a female-to-male ratio of six to one1.

Obesity appears to be a risk factor for fibromyalgia, with body mass index being correlated with interleukin-62, a biomarker associated with fibromyalgia in some studies3.

Page last edited: 17 May 2011


  1. McNally, J. D. Matheson, D. A. Bakowsky, V. S. The epidemiology of self-reported fibromyalgia in Canada. Chronic Dis Can. 2006; 27 (1): 9-16.
  2. Okifuji, A. Bradshaw, D. H. Olson, C. Evaluating obesity in fibromyalgia: neuroendocrine biomarkers, symptoms, and functions. Clinical rheumatology. 2009 Apr; 28 (4): 475-8.
  3. Hernandez, M.E. et al Proinflammatory cytokine levels in fibromyalgia patients are independent of body mass index. BMC Res Notes. 2010; 3 (1): 156.