Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

The main symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain that might feel like:

  • an ache
  • a burning sensation
  • a sharp stabbing pain
  • a mixture of these 3 feelings

The pain is likely to be continuous, but it might be better or more severe at different times.

As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia might also have:

  • increased sensitivity to sensations like touch, light, temperature, noise
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • problems with mental processes (known as “fibro-fog”) – like problems with memory and concentration
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating
  • dizziness and clumsiness
  • feeling too hot or too cold
  • restless legs syndrome
  • tingling, numbness, prickling or burning sensations in your hands and feet (pins and needles, also known as paraesthesia)
  • unusually painful periods (if you get periods)
  • anxiety
  • depression

Speak to your GP or healthcare professional if:

  • you think you might have fibromyalgia

Watch Flippin’ Pain’s Flippin’ Fibromyalgia webinar to learn more about fibromyalgia

Causes of fibromyalgia

It’s not clear why some people develop fibromyalgia. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s likely that many factors are involved.

Altered pain messages

Your brain, nerves and spinal cord make up your central nervous system. Changes in the way your central nervous system sends and receives information to your body might cause fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a type of chronic pain.

Read more about chronic pain


Some people are more likely than others to develop fibromyalgia because of the genes inherited (passed on) from their parents.


Fibromyalgia is often triggered by a stressful event. This might be a physically stressful event or an emotionally (psychologically) stressful event.

Possible triggers of fibromyalgia might be:

  • an injury
  • a viral infection
  • giving birth
  • an operation
  • the breakdown of a relationship
  • being in an abusive relationship
  • the death of a loved one

Sometimes there isn’t an obvious trigger.

Diagnosing fibromyalgia

Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult. There’s no specific test to diagnose the condition.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can vary. The symptoms can be similar to those of several other conditions. Your GP will have to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

You’ll be asked about how your symptoms are affecting your daily life. You’ll be examined to check for signs of other conditions. They’ll check for swollen joints which might suggest arthritis, rather than fibromyalgia.

Tests to check for some of these conditions include urine and blood tests. You may also have X-rays and other scans. If you’re found to have another condition, you could still have fibromyalgia as well.

Criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia

For fibromyalgia to be diagnosed, certain criteria usually have to be met. The most widely used criteria for diagnosis are:

  • you have pain in multiple areas of your body
  • your symptoms have stayed at a similar level for at least 3months
  • your symptoms can’t be explained by any other reason
  • you feel unrefreshed after sleep
  • you have problems thinking or remembering (cognitive difficulties)
  • you experience fatigue

Diagnosing other conditions

It’s also possible to have other conditions alongside fibromyalgia, like:

Identifying all possible conditions will help to guide your treatment.

Treating fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a long term (chronic) condition.

There’s no cure for fibromyalgia. But there are treatments to help relieve some of the symptoms. This can make the condition easier to live with.

Traditional treatments like pain medication aren’t always helpful for people with fibromyalgia. Learning about your condition and finding the best self management approaches for you is the best way to manage it.

A healthcare professional can help you explore your options.

Exercise, movement and activity

Exercise, movement and activity can be helpful way to manage pain.

A physiotherapist can help you to develop self-management skills to reduce the impact of pain on your life. They might help you create a tailored exercise programme suited to your needs, abilities and goals.

Physiotherapy can also help prevent further loss of strength and increase your fitness.

Pain management movement videos

Visit the living with chronic pain page for more information about exercise and relaxation techniques.

Occupational therapy can help you manage your everyday activities around fibromyalgia. The aim is to do this without increasing your pain or overwhelming yourself.

Your occupational therapist may suggest new ways to do things. They may be able to support you to continue to work, if you want to.

Access to Work has information on how to get or stay in work if you have a health condition or disability.

Group support

Some pain clinics offer pain management programmes run by a team of specialists. These specialists can include physiotherapists and psychologists. They can provide support to develop coping skills and manage your activity levels.

Speak to your GP if you think you’d benefit from a pain management programme.

Talking therapies

Talking therapies can help you manage the stress of living with fibromyalgia.

Examples of talking therapies are:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a treatment approach to help you understand the link between how we think and what we do
  • acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) – often used for pain management


Medication can’t cure fibromyalgia but it can help reduce some symptoms. Speak to your GP or pain specialist to find out the potential benefits and risks.

Your GP will likely suggest you try exercise, CBT and physiotherapy first. This is because these treatments are more likely to help.

Antidepressants can help some people with fibromyalgia. They help:

  • relieve pain
  • treat sleep problems

This can be useful even if you haven’t been diagnosed with depression.

Other medications can be used for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms, but they’re likely to be less effective.

Speak to your GP, pharmacist or healthcare professional if you’re taking medication and you don’t feel its helping.

Alternative therapies

Some people with fibromyalgia try complementary or alternative treatments, like acupuncture or massage.

There’s little scientific evidence that these treatments help in the long term. Some people find that certain treatments help them to relax and feel less stressed. This allows them to cope with their condition better.

If you decide to use complementary or herbal remedies and you have any concerns, check with your local pharmacist or healthcare professional first. Some remedies can react unpredictably with other medication, or make it less effective.

Read more about herbal medicines

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Source: NHS Scotland - Opens in new browser window

Last updated:
17 May 2024