Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Imagine, for example, stepping on a tack. Your nerves send pain signals to your brain. This pain is a “protective” form of pain. It warns you to take action (or stop what you are doing) because an injury has occurred.
That kind of pain is easy to understand. But what explains the pain and other symptoms of a person with fibromyalgia? For example, why are people with fibromyalgia sometimes more sensitive to things such as temperature and sound? This question is puzzling because there seems to be no injury.
Researchers are not yet certain of the answer. But many believe that the pain of fibromyalgia comes from “central sensitization.” This means that the problem might be a result of overactive nerves in the central nervous system (CNS) which can cause a more intense response to pain.
The CNS is made up of the brain, the spinal cord and the nerves that control physical activities. For fibromyalgia patients, this possible problem in the central nervous system may lead to a greater sensitivity to pain. It’s almost as if the “volume control” for pain is turned way up.
The idea that overactive nerves cause the muscle pain of fibromyalgia is different from scientists’ understanding of many other common pain conditions. For example, the pain of rheumatoid arthritis comes from inflammation. (This is an immune system response to infection, irritation, or other injury.) But early studies showed that inflammation does not appear to be the problem with fibromyalgia. So researchers searched for other answers.
The good news is that many scientists are now very interested in central sensitization. They are researching the role that the central nervous system may play in fibromyalgia. Medications are available to treat fibromyalgia pain.
Researchers are also exploring what may cause fibromyalgia in the first place. This question is discussed in the next section.