Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body, particularly in the muscles and tendons. The pain can be consistent and diffuse – pain that changes in location and intensity throughout the body. There can also be many focal tender points over muscles.

What causes of fibromyalgia?

The exact cause is not known at present but studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia might have abnormal functioning of the neurological pathways in their brain. This brain dysfunction might lead to an increased sensitivity to pain. 

Experts have identified other hormonal and genetic causes, but further research needs to be done to fully understand the condition.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia causes persistent muscle, tendon and/or joint pain. Although the pain changes, it normally never goes away. The pain usually starts in your neck and shoulders and then spreads to your back, chest, arms and legs. The pain can be made worse by movement, stress, poor sleep and weather changes.

People with fibromyalgia may also have: 

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleep disturbances (like waking up in the night or waking up and not feeling rested)

  • Problems with memory and concentration, similar to brain fog

  • Headaches

  • Bowel problems like IBS

  • Anxiety

The combination of pain and associated symptoms can hugely affect your quality of life, but there is support and medical help available. 

Who is affected by fibromyalgia?

80-90% of fibromyalgia cases happen in women, but men and children can also be affected.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia is diagnosed clinically – this means that a doctor uses their judgement to make a diagnosis rather than relying on investigations such as blood tests or imaging. 

These are the common criteria used to help diagnose fibromyalgia: 

  • Pain in 11 of the 18 ‘tender points’ in the body 

  • Symptoms have persisted for more than 3 months

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can also be similar to other conditions so a doctor will usually run other tests to rule out other causes.

What are the 18 ‘tender points’?

This refers to the 18 pressure points on the body that can often be tender or naturally painful for fibromyalgia patients. Just touching them can cause significant pain. 

These 18 points are most often located in:

  • The knee 

  • The hip 

  • The buttocks

  • The shoulder blades

  • The thorax (between your neck and tummy)

  • The neck muscles 

  • The trapezius muscles (the muscles that run down your neck across the middle of your upper back)

How is fibromyalgia treated?

There’s no cure for the disease, but there are treatment options available to help reduce pain and improve quality of life. 

Managing fibromyalgia can be as complex as the disease itself. Your treatment will be personalised and adapted to you. However, regularly keeping active is generally considered as a helpful first-line treatment for fibromyalgia.

When should I speak to a doctor?

Book an appointment with a doctor if you:

  • Have prolonged periods of pain with no clear cause, like trauma

  • Are waking up in the night because of pain

  • Have extreme tiredness

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi