The Mystery of Fibromyalgia in Children

Dr. Paul Rosen is a nationally recognized expert in Pediatric Rheumatology. He is passionate about bringing his knowledge and expertise to families who do not have local access to pediatric rheumatologists.

Fibromyalgia is a painful condition where someone experiences joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and often has difficulty sleeping. The broad array of symptoms can be physically disabling as well as disrupt the patient’s work life, family life, and overall emotional well-being. Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose, as there is no reliable blood test or imaging study to definitively identify it.

Can children get fibromyalgia? The answer is yes. Teenagers and younger children can develop the same symptoms of chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and sleep problems. It’s very disruptive to their lives, and can cause them to quit sports, miss school, and lose contact with friends. The symptoms can start after a physical injury, following a stressful emotional episode, or without an obvious trigger. The pain can strike anywhere in the body and can be extraordinarily severe. Children often report having very little energy. They also may have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and can be exhausted when they awaken. Some children even have to drop out of school.

Fibromyalgia can run in families, and it typically affects girls more than boys. Some children who put more pressure on themselves to succeed in sports or in school or have perfectionist tendencies can develop the syndrome. Other children with fibromyalgia have been described as “advanced beyond their years” and may take on other people’s problems for their own. They may be described as “worriers” as they worry about issues that their parents or friends worry about.

Treatment of fibromyalgia for children is focused on maintaining physical activity, restoration of sleep, and stress reduction. Medications are not typically effective. Children can benefit from a robust physical therapy program to get them moving again, strengthening muscles, and doing aerobics, which release the body’s natural painkillers. Cutting out naps is essential for maintaining good sleep hygiene. Naps are disruptive to the deep sleep that one gets during the REM cycle, which is required to restore energy. Finally, stress reduction is very important. Most fibromyalgia patients report that their pain levels intensify as their stress levels rise. If a child has stressors at school or at home, the stressors should be identified and mitigated, which can often be achieved with the help of a counselor.

Fibromyalgia can be a life-altering condition for children. However, if recognized and treated, children typically overcome it and return to sports, school, and friends. The prognosis is good and it can be controlled without extensive medications. Parents, caregivers, and those who work with children should be aware of this condition so they can identify it early, and help the child get treatment.

Written for HealthTap by:

Dr. Paul Rosen