Is Fibromyalgia Treatable? Exploring Effective Management Options

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Written By Dr. João Arthur Ferreira

MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas. It is a complex and often misunderstood condition, affecting millions of people worldwide.

One of the most common questions asked by those who suffer from fibromyalgia is whether or not it is treatable.

While there is no definitive cure for fibromyalgia, there are various treatment options available that can help alleviate symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life. These treatment options typically involve a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Understanding the available treatments and how they work can provide hope and guidance for those living with this challenging condition.

In this article, we will explore the different treatment options for fibromyalgia, discussing their efficacy and potential side effects. The goal is to provide a comprehensive overview of the current approaches to managing fibromyalgia and to empower individuals affected by this condition to make informed decisions about their care.

Understanding Fibromyalgia

purple ribbon fibromyalgia rheumatic

Fibromyalgia is typified by widespread pain, tenderness, and an array of additional symptoms, including pronounced fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive dysfunction (often referred to as “fibro fog”), and emotional distress.

Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be challenging, as there are no specific laboratory tests for it. Doctors rely on identifying the characteristic symptoms and ruling out other conditions that may mimic fibromyalgia, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Fibromyalgia is currently not considered curable, but the symptoms can be managed with a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments. The aim is to improve the patient’s quality of life by reducing pain, fatigue, and other debilitating symptoms.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Fibromyalgia is characterized by a variety of symptoms that can vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Widespread pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Joint stiffness
  • Cognitive issues, such as difficulty concentrating (often referred to as “fibro fog”)
  • Headaches
  • Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia: ACR Criteria and Beyond

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) first introduced fibromyalgia classification criteria in 1990. These criteria emphasized widespread pain persisting for three months or more, involving all four quadrants of the body, and tenderness in designated tender points. These criteria have been widely used in research and clinical studies, with over 7,000 papers published on various aspects of fibromyalgia.

Recognizing the limitations of the 1990 criteria, the ACR introduced diagnostic criteria in 2010, with modifications in 2011. These criteria consider widespread pain reported by patients, the presence of key symptoms such as fatigue, poor sleep, and cognitive troubles, as well as somatic symptoms like headache, abdominal pain, and depression.

A combination of widespread pain and other characteristic symptoms is now considered the hallmark of fibromyalgia.

In 2010, the American College of Rheumatology established new diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia:

  • Widespread pain present for at least three months
  • A minimum of 11 out of 18 established tender points on the body, which are painful when pressure is applied
  • No other medical condition that can be identified as the primary cause of the pain

Additionally, healthcare practitioners often use a combination of laboratory tests, imaging studies, and physical examinations to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases, and other disorders. Once other potential causes are ruled out, a clinical diagnosis of fibromyalgia may be made.

Contemporary clinical practice benefits from both the 1990 and 2010/2011 criteria, with the latter being particularly useful in general practice settings. The ACR 2010/2011 criteria also acknowledge the mind-body implications of fibromyalgia, emphasizing the importance of addressing both physical and mental symptoms.

Central Sensitivity Score: A Useful Tool in Clinical Practice

The 2010/2011 diagnostic criteria enable healthcare professionals to calculate a central sensitivity score, which is indicative of a patient’s abnormal central sensitization. Higher scores are associated with increased centrally driven pain, comorbid symptoms, and psychosocial stress. Interestingly, patients with higher central sensitivity scores tend to be less responsive to opioid treatment.

Research at Monash University demonstrated that as central sensitivity scores increase, patients with fibromyalgia exhibit higher tender point counts. Furthermore, the central sensitivity score is applicable beyond fibromyalgia, as demonstrated in a study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. As the central sensitivity score increased, both physical and mental health scores decreased significantly in these patients.

Fibromyalgia as a Spectrum Disorder

Fibromyalgia is now understood to be a spectrum disorder, with individuals experiencing varying degrees of symptoms. Some people may have minimal sensitivity, while others may suffer from debilitating symptoms.

Accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plans are crucial for managing fibromyalgia and improving patients’ quality of life.

Treatment Options

asian doctor treating fibromyalgia patient

Effective management of fibromyalgia is vital for enhancing the quality of life for those afflicted by this condition. This section will discuss evidence-based treatment options available for fibromyalgia patients, including pharmacological interventions (such as analgesics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants), non-pharmacological therapies (like cognitive-behavioral therapy, physical therapy, and exercise), and integrative approaches (incorporating complementary and alternative medicine practices).

Furthermore, we will explore the crucial role of patient education in fibromyalgia management, empowering individuals to take an active role in their own care and fostering better communication with healthcare providers.

Medications: Several types of medications may be prescribed to manage fibromyalgia symptoms, including:

  • Analgesics, such as over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Antidepressants, to help manage pain and sleep disturbances.
  • Anticonvulsants, which may help reduce pain and other symptoms.

Physical Therapy: Working with a physical therapist can help develop a customized exercise program that focuses on flexibility, strength, and aerobic conditioning. This can help reduce pain, improve function, and increase overall well-being.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This form of talk therapy can help individuals with fibromyalgia learn strategies to manage pain, reduce stress, and cope with the emotional impact of the condition.

Lifestyle Changes: Incorporating healthy habits into daily routines can help manage fibromyalgia symptoms, such as:

  • Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule
  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Reducing stress through relaxation techniques or mindfulness practices

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for an individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

Lifestyle Changes and Self-Management

Fibromyalgia may not have a cure, but various lifestyle changes and self-management techniques can help alleviate symptoms and improve the overall quality of life. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Exercise: Engaging in regular aerobic activities, such as walking or swimming, can help reduce pain levels and increase energy. It is crucial to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises.

2. Sleep hygiene: Establishing a proper sleep routine can help combat fatigue and improve overall well-being. Some sleep hygiene practices include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime ritual, and keeping the sleeping environment comfortable and free from distractions.

3. Stress management: Stress can exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms. Implementing various stress-management techniques like deep-breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can provide relief.

4. Diet modification: Eating a well-balanced diet that focuses on whole foods may help manage symptoms. Some patients find it beneficial to avoid potential food triggers, such as gluten or dairy products.

5. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This psychological therapy helps individuals develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms, focusing on reducing negative thoughts and behaviors that can contribute to pain and discomfort.

For optimum results, it is essential to work with a healthcare professional to tailor these self-management techniques to each individual’s needs.

Emerging Therapies

As the understanding of fibromyalgia continues to evolve, several new and emerging therapies are being researched to help manage and alleviate its symptoms.

Some of these therapies include:

  • Low-dose naltrexone (LDN): This medication works by modulating the immune and nervous systems, potentially reducing pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. Research on LDN’s effectiveness for treating fibromyalgia is still in its early stages, but initial results are promising.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): A non-invasive brain stimulation technique, TMS targets specific brain areas involved in pain regulation. Preliminary studies have suggested that it may prove helpful in reducing fibromyalgia pain.
  • Medical Cannabis: There is growing interest in the use of medical cannabis and its derivatives, such as cannabidiol (CBD), to alleviate fibromyalgia symptoms. Some studies have shown that it can be effective in reducing pain and improving sleep. However, more research is needed to determine optimal dosages and administration methods.

It’s important to stress that these emerging therapies are still under investigation and may not be suitable for everyone. Patients should consult with their healthcare professionals before considering any new treatment options.


In summary, fibromyalgia is a complex condition that currently has no absolute cure. However, it is treatable through various approaches that can help manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals affected by it.

Some common treatment options include:

  • Medications (e.g., analgesics, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs)
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Complementary and alternative therapies (e.g., acupuncture, massage, and dietary supplements)

It is essential for patients to work closely with their healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan that addresses their specific needs and symptoms. This may require adjustments over time as the condition evolves or as new treatments become available.

While fibromyalgia remains a challenging condition to manage, advancements in research and understanding of the disorder continue to provide hope for improved treatments and a better understanding of the condition in the future.

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Physiatrist, M.D. Pain Center of University of São Paulo

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