Over the last fifteen years, scientists have gained more insight into the science behind fibromyalgia. Current evidence points to a sensitized or overactive central nervous system. Within the central nervous system is the brain, spinal cord, and over 400 nerves, all connected like a highway system.
What’s going on in my body?
Maybe you've been told that your pain is "all in your head." This is not true. Your pain is real and your symptoms are real too. It’s also true that pain is processed within the central nervous system, which includes the brain.
The pain is in your brain, not your mind.
Fibromyalgia is characterized by abnormal pain processing within the central nervous system. This is also called “central sensitization” as the nervous system has become more sensitive and overactive. In layman's terms, central sensitization is when the nervous system is on high alert even when there is no danger present.
Because the system is on high alert, it doesn't take much for your pain alarm to go off (ex: getting a poor night of sleep, a stressful conversation, overexertion, etc.). If your house were on fire, you'd want your smoke detectors to go off. However, you don't want your smoke detector going off if you're just toasting a piece of bread. Is your alarm system going off more than it should?
Why is my nervous system so sensitive? What caused my fibromyalgia?
Three mechanisms explain how a nervous system becomes more sensitive:
Previous damage or inflammation of peripheral tissue. Let's say you broke your ankle and had surgery a few years ago. Originally the pain was in your ankle and surrounding areas. However, over time your entire system became more sensitive. Remember, your nerves are connected like a highway system, so the pain can spread and shift from the original injury.
Genetics. The risk of developing fibromyalgia is about eight times higher for first-degree relatives of those with fibro, such as siblings or children, compared to the general population. More specifically, research has found the following gene pathways are involved in the development of fibromyalgia: serotonergic, dopaminergic, and catecholaminergic.
Psychological and behavioral factors, such as anxiety, fear of movement, and a focus on the pain. These factors best explain the ongoing sensitivity of the nervous system.
Check It Out
We've created a free e-book with science-backed information for all fibromyalgia warriors. Instead of spending hours and hours searching Google for answers on how the diagnosis process works, best treatment options, and causes of your pain, it's all right here!
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Fibromyalgia is not a "one size fits all" diagnosis. What works for some doesn't work for others. The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Should you have any health-related questions, please consult your physician or other health care provider promptly.
Teresa & Hannah are fellow fibromyalgia warriors. Teresa is a certified dietary manager and wellness coach. Hannah is an occupational therapist. Together, we're a mother-daughter duo on a mission to empower others to fight against fibro.