Pediatric Fibromyalgia and Musculoskeletal Pain

We may not like it, but we need pain: It acts as an early warning system that something is causing or may cause damage to the body. If your child has a chronic condition known as fibromyalgia, though, the pain alarm is continually being set off by things that feel painless to most people -- getting a friendly pat on the back, for instance, or sitting in a chair for a few hours.

Hearing your child complain of “hurting all over” can be upsetting, especially given that fibromyalgia isn’t a disease but a condition that may last for years, even a lifetime. There isn’t a “cure.” However, fibromyalgia doesn’t actually damage the body, the way arthritis does. And with education, treatment and lifestyle changes, the majority of children with fibromyalgia can bring their condition under control and lead a full, relatively normal life.

  • Fibromyalgia is found in about 2 to 4 percent of the U.S. population, or as many as 12 million people.

  • Although fibromyalgia primarily affects women ages 20-60, doctors are increasingly seeing it in pediatric patients as well, usually around early adolescence (11-15).

  • Fibromyalgia is a chronic -- meaning long-lasting -- disorder that causes widespread pain and stiffness in the tissues that support and move the bones and joints.

  • Many people with fibromyalgia also have severe fatigue and trouble sleeping.

  • Treatment for fibromyalgia aims to control symptoms through things like exercise, relaxation techniques and, in some cases, medication.

How Boston  Children’s Hospital approaches fibromyalgia

The doctors who treat fibromyalgia are specialists in caring for the muscles, joints and connective tissues, called rheumatologists. Children’s Hospital Boston has one of the largest pediatric rheumatology departments in the U.S., seeing more than 4,000 outpatients and almost 1,000 inpatients every year -- which gives our physicians broad experience with fibromyalgia and related illnesses.

Our rheumatologists also work closely together with other Children’s specialists to care for your child. This teamwork is vital in fibromyalgia, because the treatment plan often involves pain specialists, sleep specialists, physical therapists and practitioners of complementary medicine, like acupuncture.

Finally, Children’s is always looking for ways to better diagnose and treat fibromyalgia, as well as learn more about how this chronic condition works. For example, our researchers are working to develop biomarkers -- things in the body, like certain protein levels, that help identify or track an ailment -- for fibromyalgia. Such a biomarker could potentially be used to diagnose fibromyalgia in children and monitor how well they’re responding to treatment.

Reviewed by Robert Sundel, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston, 2011