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General Information

DEFINITION--Inflammation of muscles, muscle sheaths and connective-tissue layers of tendons, muscles, bones and joints.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Muscular areas of the low back, neck, shoulder, chest, arms, hips and thighs.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Adults (usually begins between ages 30 and 60) and in women more often than men (ratio of 5 to 1).


  • Stiffness and weakness.
  • Sudden, painful muscle spasms ("charley horse") that worsen with activity.
  • Nodules or localized areas that are tender to the touch (trigger points).
  • Painful muscle areas.
  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulty remaining asleep.

CAUSES--Unknown. Possibly an imbalance in brain chemicals or an autoimmune disorder. Until recently, this was thought to be a psychological disorder, but this is no longer the wide-spread belief. Research continues into the cause.


  • Stress.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Muscle injury.
  • Exposure to dampness or cold.
  • Medical history of disorders that produce joint inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or polyarteritis.
  • Viral infections.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Fatigue or overwork.


  • Avoid risk factors when possible.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • General conditioning exercises.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood studies to measure inflammation and tests to rule out rheumatoid arthritis or polymyalgia. There is no specific test for fibromyositis.


  • Self-care after diagnosis.
  • Doctor's treatment.


  • Muscle atrophy, disability.
  • Abuse of pain-killing medications.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Spontaneous recovery in some persons. Other persons may have flare-ups and remissions indefinitely. The disease is uncomfortable, but not life-threatening. Symptoms can be controlled with treatment.

How To Treat


  • Heat relieves pain. Take hot showers, and let the water beat on painful areas. Use heat lamps, electric heating pads, whirlpool or plain tub baths and hot compresses.
  • Have someone gently massage painful areas.
  • Regular rest patterns may be helpful.
  • Eliminate unnecessary stress in your life (see How to Cope with Stress in Appendix).
  • Learn relaxation techniques.
  • Biofeedback is helpful for some patients who use it to relax contracted muscles.
  • Maintain your social life and contact with friends, even though the pain may be distracting at times.


  • For minor discomfort, you may use non-prescription drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Your doctor may prescribe: Cortisone injections into "trigger points." Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Antidepressants in low dosages and for short periods.


  • Stay as active as possible, even when you are in pain. Stretching exercises may be helpful.
  • General conditioning exercises are helpful.

DIET--No special diet, but avoid substances that interfere with sleep, such as caffeine and alcohol.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of fibrositis that last more than 2 or 3 days.
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.
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