How Back Pain Affects Fibromyalgia

by Kristin Thorson, Editor, Fibromyalgia Network
Posted: February 29, 2012

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.

46 Responses to How Back Pain Affects Fibromyalgia

  1. Melanie says:

    I have fibromyalgia as well as lower bank pain and 3 herniated discs which have worsened my chronic pain. I should also say that I have been on Fentora for 8 years and likely have not built up a tolerance. In two weeks I will need a total hip replacement and possibly another next year from osteoarthritis. Because of all my ailments there are members in my family who do not believe that I could possibly be so much chronic pain and show no empathy for me. It is a terrible wAy to live. Thank you for letting me vent

    • Rebecca says:

      Bless you Melanie, I have had FMS for over 16 yrs. Now last spring I had a severe attack of vertigo losing control of all functions. Tested for ear problems none but have just plain vertigo. I see a Neuro and he’s great I also have Narcolepsy and a whole lotta pain I lost my job last summer I had worked there for 9 yrs. but I am too sick to work. EVERYONE it seems treats me as if I am lazy, a complainer, or tells me I need to get out more!!! I also have clinical depression. What a mess, but you are not alone! Take care.

    • Chris says:

      I also have found that when my lower back hurts more other things hurts less. I’ve even noticed when I get a cold my other symptoms are better. It’s like my body focuses more on whatever the worst symptom is at the time. Someone should do some research on that.

    • saundra adams says:

      bless your heart, they only give me tramadol. is does not work. go figure. i am 61, and it looks like i am 100 when i try to get around. i am sorry for both of us.

  2. Patricia A. Webster says:

    This was very pertinent to me since I have both back pain and fibromyalgia. i am also recovering from rotator cuff surgery with clavicle damage from a fall. It will probably help my family to read this but I try to keep my pain to myself whcih is not always good for me. As a nurse i appreciated the article and the research being done on this.

  3. Sheila Redmond says:

    This article describes me to a T. I have arthritis in every joint and I have some buldging disks. That pain is different from the fibromyalgia pain but if I have one I seem to have the otherl Most people, even those I live with have no understaning of how painful living is for me. I can not find releif from pain, and of course the MD’s think I am seeking pain medications. My family think I am lazy now. I miss a lot of work and they don’t understand either even though I am in a health care setting.

    • Lori says:

      I totally understand your position. I live in Wyoming and there are like 4 pain management doctors. I also have alot of family stress I’m dealing with which does not help the knots I get in my back besides the general fibro pain. About to lose my mind as there is no support in my area and my family does not understand (even tho they say they do).

  4. dorothy harris says:

    I feel exactly what your talking about my back pain leaves me disabeld while my fibro leaves me in excrutiating pain it really is a catch 22. I am 47 feeling like I,m 67 spend many days lying in bed so fatigued.

    • Sandy Brown says:

      I am so compassionate for you and want you to know you are not alone. Today I am in so much pain. I have osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia and diabetes and a herniated disk in my lower back and I have had two cervical fusions. I am fused from C4-C7. My Orthopedic Doctor told me I am going to need two knee replacements as well. I am 51 years old and feel like I am 91. My parents are in less pain than me and are able to do more than I can. I can’t wait to take a hot bath in Eucalyptus Salts later today. That is what I have to look forward to.

  5. Amy Stepp says:

    Thank you, Thank you , Thank you for this article. Now I know that the problems I have been having with my hands are FMS related. No doctor would tell me this. But what I don’t understand is when my lower back is not that bad other symptoms are worse. Or is it what I preceive since my brain is not focused on the lower back pain I feel all the other pain more even though it’s always there?

    Again Thank You.

    • Tammy says:

      I know this is all crazy making…all of it….but I do feel the same pain as you….I have a multitude of ailments and chronic pain and FM are at the top of the list. I fell recently and broke my elbow andhurt my knee badly…it seems that all my pain receptors are going to those areas and my back (10 surgeries) is feeling so good for a change…makes no sense…but I too think it is the way the brain works…amazing…

    • Sharon Summers says:

      bingo – I haven’t heard anything about this phenomena before; when one part of the body quits hurting for a while, another part starts up…is it just perception, or what is it? Anybody else have this problem?

  6. Veronica Singer says:

    How in heaven’s name do I deal with fibromyalgia combined with spinal stenosis and two herniated discs in my lower back? The pain is constant and interferes with everything I try to do.

    • donna says:

      i am in pain on a daily basis and it is very difficult to do the things that i should be doing and it is more frustrating as i live alone so i know there are things that i need to do around the house. I am on 3 different medications and one is a pain killer it helps some but not enough. thank you for letting me share

    • Sandy Brown says:

      So sorry to hear that you do not know how to handle all this pain. Nobody does… You just have to take one day one hour one minute at a time. Do what you can do and do not over do. Listen to your favorite music and take up a hobby that will keep your mind off your pain. Stay connected to the people that really care about you and rid your life of the other people that cause you stress. Focus every day and minute on what makes you happy. Keep it simple. Like I like a nice warm cup of Peppermint Tea to make me feel good and happy. Warm baths in Lavendar and Eucalyptus Salts makes me feel good. Lighting a Lavender Candle makes me feel good. I am sure you can find the little things in life that make you feel good too. Good Luck and God Bless You <3

    • Diane Barham says:

      You find a good pain Dr. I have one. I also have arthritis over my whole body and have had Fibro for over 30 years. I can’t stand for more than 2 or 3 minutes. Hard to iron. My companion of 28 years has started doing dishes for me. It’s a give and take life. Soft and gentle hugs.

    • Estelle says:

      I had to get real specific with my internist about my pain from the spinal stenosis. When I told her I was unable to stand for more than 2 minutes at a time she finally understood what I had been telling her about doing my ADLs in shifts. She said “That’s not acceptable!” and sent me to a pain management Dr. Nobody thinks I am drug seeking even though my pain Doc has me on very potent opiod. He first gave me a round of 3 epidural injections of cortisone that helped quite a bit. I also have bulging discs and other sources of pain from OA in my spine and elsewhere. He understands this is a chronic condition and is treating me appropriotely. I hope this helps you.

    • Rowena Coote says:

      I sympathise with many of you. Unable to stand, sit or lay down for any length of time and in total agony day in day out. I also have oestioarthritis in my hands. I still work. I stand all day in total agony in my back and legs. I am totally exhausted all the time and no one really knows the extend of the pain i am really in as i try to keep it to myself, especially at work as i cant afford to lose my job. My boyfriend doesn’t really understand and just thinks i’m being lazy on my days off when i say i really cant do anything. If i had a leg amputated i would get all the symnpathy and understanding but because this is an ‘invisible’ condition its very hard to get your point across to people/employers/family and friends without sounding like a winging layabout. I have totally had enough of it! Anyone agree with me ??

  7. Kat says:

    I have been Diagnosed with FMS, and have chronic low back pain. Recently I have been diagnosed with DDD and osteoarthritis in the lower back. The pain is most intense between my hips, specially right before it rains. I work in the medical field so most co-workers understand low back pain; but I dont think most people really understand the full spectrum FMS can have on your life. Some days I stand, most of the day, because my back is not comfortable in a seated position. There is a constant ache all the time that fatigues me quickly, it is so frustrating.

  8. Donna White says:

    I have had 3 major back surgeries with laminectomy and fusion. I still am in pain as I still suffer with sciatica bilaterally. Between that and the Fibromyalgia getting through the day is a great challenge. Thankfully I have a family that understands I am going through a great deal of pain, but unfortunately I do not have the help from my insurance provider. And yes at 61, I am beginning to feel about 75 or 80.

  9. Brenda Oaks says:

    So what do you do if your healthcare team thinks you just want opioids? Everytime I have tried to tell them that we either need to up my curent meds or try something different, I got “well we are not giving you vicodin.” I was so shocked and since I did not seep the night before due to pain, I could not even get upset till after I left. I feel that if I try to switch providers it will just make them think that I am pain seeking. What I really am is hurt and not getting the care i need. I was so upset that I had a flair up and slept most of the next day. How can I make them understand. I was not even asking for opiads. Just something different. I have been on the same meds since Oct. and it just is not working for me any more.

    • AJ says:

      It’s hard to walk away from a doctor like that but if u don’t then the treatments will be the same with no change. Needless to say I have found a new doc in OKC that I am hoping will be able to help me. I feel like I am one legged depressed duck swimming in a circle. Hope u find a food doctor soon

    • sylvia woods says:

      This is to Brenda..Just find a dr. that really believes you..I have been told that my tests were good enough that I could run a marathon.I finally found a rheumy and I am getting treatment for inflammation…that also did not show up…in April I will begin methotrexate..

  10. Carla says:

    Thank you for posting this. It made me feel better knowing this information and that it wasn’t all in my head.
    I also have a lot of knee, shin, muscles around my knees, ankle and heel pain. I feel some of it is due to my fibromyalgia, OA and RA.

    • Nilda says:

      I am so glad to know I am not the only one. You describe the pains like you knew me. I miss a lot of work due to this. I am very fortunate to have a boss that is patient and understanding. He allows me to work from home on my worse days.

    • zelphia says:

      Thank you for keeping us informed and able to communicate with others with FM and chonic back pain .I am 47 and in constant pain my hand hurt all the time can’t open anything so frustrating always fatigue , depressed and short temmpered every joint hurts i feel like i’m 20 years older my dad is 91 and he’s in better health than me.

  11. MELANIE says:

    Thank you for this article…………..for me, after 1 1/2 years having back pain and not knowing why…………..that was what confirm my fibromyalgia………….sure I had all the other symptoms but they did not put the two together……………..now after 1 month knowing, I feeel a little bit better but I know that the road will be hard and ectic…….

  12. Rebecca Frith says:

    After more then 15 years of FM, DDD & osteoarthritis I feel like I am 10 years olde. I thought it was just me who feels like this.Thanks for the new info. Some of my family has nothing to do with me, since I have been on disability since 1997, after struggling to work 2 years after finally being diagnosed with FM. We have to remember that doctors are just, in my words, “educated guessers” They do try to help,but they have been trained to look for certain “clues”. Now they have to deal with government watch dogs that note every opiod perscription they write. I am thankfull that I now have a “pain management” doctor that really cares. He recommended a Tens Unit for me and I have found it helps with the muscle knots. That and prayer, and an understanding husband have made me feel blessed.

  13. Mary says:

    I have osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia. Back pain is horrible most of the time. People who don’t have FMS don’t understand. Thank you for publishing this. We so appreciate you and the articles you put out there for us. Thank you, again.

  14. Karen London says:

    What a great article. I have back pain 100% of the time but also have Fibromyalgia which right now is in my neck and shoulders. I work in an office and by the end of the day, I am in so much pain, it hurts to just hold up my head some nights.

  15. Opel says:

    I have a very understanding husband but he can not even fatham that I am in this much pain everyday. Is there anyone out there that has found any combo of medication that will at least offer enough relieve to make it thru the normal day to day functions.

    • Zoe says:

      Hi Opel,
      Before I had to cancel my health ins. due to being cut-off from my Long Term Disability, I was being seen by a Pain Management group. They then diagnosed me with DDD, Spondolathyosis(sp), Scoliosis, and Fibro. I ended up on Opana ER, Percoset for break thru pain, Gabapentin for the fibro, and that was the closest I got to relief. For me, it alleviated about 30-40% of my pain. I had to quit working in 2008, and just finally had my SSDI hearing 2 weeks ago. Now that I can’t afford the Opana ER, my pain is much worse. I hope this helps you! Good Luck….

  16. Celeste Cooper says:

    Great article that will help so many of us. TY

  17. shirley hale says:

    Reading these makes me very thankful that I have a medical doctor and a chiropractor who understand fibro and work with me to deal with my pain/sleep. I have only had my meds changed only a few times..I’m blessed, I know I could have many other pain problems I could be dealing with..but I know when I have lower back pain, it is much harder to cope with, but so far my chiropractor has been able to make adjustments to help.
    I’m glad I opened this web page today.

  18. Karen says:

    I am very fortunate to have a doctor that totally understands that the pain needs to be controlled along with the symptoms of my fibromyalgia. Many of you seem to need a pain specialist. I went to a pain clinic for many years and now my primary doctor manages my medications for me. I am on 2 narcotics for my pain along with cymbalta and muscle relaxants. I also have a tens unit which helps manage the extra pain that I have. I do appreciate all the information that I recieve here and know if something new comes along I can discuss it with my doctor and not be ignored or belittled. If you are having a problem with your doctor, I would suggest you find one that is more understanding and aware of what you are going through. I also have the extra benefit of complete support from my husband and children. It is said that some of the closet people in our lives, are truly unable to understand what fibromyalgia can do to a person. I find the best thing to do is just try to educate them, if possible, by sharing articles and information on the the subject. Thank you for all that you do. I also want to say to all of you just hang in there and take it a day at a time.

  19. Millie says:

    I understand what is being said in this article. My parents and friends think I am either lying or that my ailments aren’t that bad. I just more people would understand the effects of having a bad back, OA, RA, and fibro! I had to quit working 2 yrs ago and for 3 wks after that I cried because I was once a very independent and outdoorsy woman. I still try to do things when I have “good” days but usually end up paying for it afterwards.

    • Zoe says:

      Hi Millie,

      I am fortunate in that My parents and my true friends know and understand what I am going thru. I finally had to quit working in 2008 after 16 yrs of lower back pain, then the diagnosis of Fibro. I still have my “depressed” days. I, like you , always managed to overdue it on my better days then suffer for 2-3 days afterwards. I was finally able to do things and know my limits. Now, I may do a chore that hurts, but usually only pay for it big time the day I do it. My pain never goes away, but I can help the pain by watching what I do. I hope this helps you. I to thought my depression was brought on by the pain. But in reality, it was because I was so independent, and I love to work, that because I couldn’t work anymore was the biggest reason for my depression. Good Luck!!

  20. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this reassurance in print. I guess the secret to surviving it all is just not giving up. I had to change doctors till I put a team together that believed in me. I continue to fight my insurance company when they cost me my health team and refuse me my medicines. Don’t get me wrong, I have mini meltdowns almost daily. But I also try to be kind to myself and find the good stuff in life daily as well. The sunshine, snowflakes, the purr of my cats… I try to educate anyone who walks in my path. No one can truly understand what I feel in my body except another who has the same diseases. If those around you can’t offer the minimum of support, maybe you need to find your support system elsewhere. These diseases have cost me my life as I knew it. And I almost” threw in the towel” once! Thank God I didn’t! Instead, I just started over and created a new life. That is a gift we can give to ourselves every day! Hang in there everybody!

  21. Keri says:

    I have had six spinal surgeries and thought that the pain from my back was the worst thing I was going to go through. The doctors said the pain would not go away. Adding Fibro to the mix was just overwhelming. I really thank you for posting this, I sometimes feel all alone in this. To be honest, the back pain, as bad as it is, does not even compare to the pain and debilitation of the Fibro. Something always hurts, and every energy surge is followed by consequential depletion and aggravation of pain. I am always planning when to hurt and days that I can afford to pay for the extra effort. The only thing that helps is to try to keep involved in things, people and lots and lots of prayer. Thanks for listening.

  22. Val says:

    Has anyone done IMS treatment and if so have they received any benefit from it?

  23. Paula says:

    Millie, and all others that the family does not understand. Even the doctors that just think we are constant complainers. If they had to walk in our shoes just one day they would not treat us this way anymore.I am so tired and fatigued all the time and in chronic pain everyday. I do take some meds that help some. But not much. I just want you all to know that I understand, and have compassion for each and everyone of you. Just wanted to share this with you all because i and walking in your shoes and I understand. Paula

  24. dsvid says:

    Have chronic pain in my back and arms shoulders, My job with so much repetitive work leaves me exhausted mentally and phsically most days. The only thing that has helped me in the past is a good osteopath and a regular exercise program helps a LOT. Go slowly at first untill you can build up a little stanima. It really will help god bless you all.

  25. Lorne says:

    Thank you all for being here and helping me to understand FM. I also have osteoarthritis, and chronic, severe lower back pain. My doctor, for years, has insisted that men don’t get FM and tries to give me pain medication for arthritis. Doesn’t help with any of the FM symptoms. I finally convinced him to send me to a rheumatologist. He diagnosed FM, and was very thorough in his his exam and evaluation. Now that I know that this site is here, I will be visiting frequently and carefully listening to all the posts. Thank you so much for sharing. Peace be with all of you.

  26. HELEN says:

    What a relief to find this article and the responses from all the previous sufferers. Just to know that the poor grip etc is part of the fibro syndrome is reassuring, as so many doctors just treat all the individual problems without looking at the overall picture. I, too, have Fibro, osteoarthritis combined with chronic back pain (for 29 years) I have several bulging discs. one torn, and spinal stenosis. It is very hard to get some family members to understand just how much pain I am in. Thankfully I have a very supportive husband. My answer now is to draw back from those people, as it only adds more stress and that is something you really do not need with fibro. So what if they are annoyed? It comes down to self- preservation!

  27. logicitc says:

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