How Back Pain Affects Fibromyalgia
Although people might have trouble understanding your all-over fibromyalgia symptoms, they may be able to relate to chronic low back pain. Most everyone at some time or another has experienced back pain, even if not on a chronic basis.
People can grasp how back pain interferes with one’s ability to put on their shoes, bending for household chores, or yard maintenance tasks. Even the difficulties of sitting in a chair or standing for prolonged periods of time with a sore back might be something the average person can relate to.
At any given time, roughly 72 percent of fibromyalgia patients have objective evidence of painful muscular knots in their low back region.1 This means most people with fibro have low back pain with the added discomfort of their widespread symptoms. On the flip side, a recent study found 28 percent of women with chronic low back pain also met the criteria for fibromyalgia.2
The purpose of the above study was to examine the impact fibromyalgia had on people already burdened with chronic low back pain, compared to those who only had the back pain. By itself, low back pain produced serious consequences for the 130 people in the study. Many objective findings such as handgrip strength, walking speed, and work disability were combined with validated questionnaires to assess the impact of the chronic painful conditions.
As to be expected, chronic low back pain seriously affected patients in the study regardless of whether they also had the widespread symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, patients with both pain conditions were clearly more burdened. So if the people in your life (partner, friend or coworker) understand how back pain interferes with function, this study might help explain why your fibro symptoms further limit your abilities.
“The back pain plus fibromyalgia group showed significantly more severe impairments in body functions, more severe activity limitations, and participation restrictions,” writes the lead author Lena Nordeman, Ph.D., RPT. She adds, “Less social support and lower healthy-related quality of life” was also found in the patients with both conditions compared to those with low back pain.
More specifically, the reduced speed of walking and handgrip strength in the fibro group was nearly the same as that reported for healthy people 15 years older. Many patients with fibromyalgia state they feel much older than they really are, and the measurements from this study offer confirmation. However, it is not just a state of mind, as neither patient group (low back or fibro) met the criteria for clinical depression or anxiety.
Physical function and vitality were both significantly lowered in the fibromyalgia group versus the low back pain group. This likely reflects the more systemic and fatiguing effects of the widespread symptoms of fibro versus the more regional back pain syndrome.
If anyone questions your limitations, you might start by asking if they have ever had a severe back ache because most people have. Then explain how fibromyalgia further impacts your function on a daily basis.
1. Ge HY, et al. Arthritis Res Ther 13(2):R48, Mar 22, 2011.
2. Nordeman L, et al. Clin J Pain 28:65-72, 2012.