Foundation of Fibromyalgia Is Altered Central Nervous System, New Study Validates

Foundation of Fibromyalgia Is Altered Central Nervous System, New Study Validates

The central nervous system has been shown to be the “origin of fibromyalgia,” which National Pain Report broke in the news in May.

And now, a new study has taken that finding further.

A German study published this week in BMC Neurology investigated central nervous system involvement in fibromyalgia sufferers by imaging the central nervous system with functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) – a fancy neuroimaging technology that offers a relatively non-invasive, safe, and low-cost way to monitor brain activity.  

What the researchers discovered is important to the very understanding of the painful disease:  The central nervous system’s processing in people with fibromyalgia is fundamentally altered, AND, there is a clear distinction between fibromyalgia and major depression.

So, while it may be in your head, it’s certainly not all in your head!  And, fibromyalgia is NOT depression, although the two conditions can be present together.

“Based on data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies (a different imaging technology than fNIRS), we hypothesized that pain associated cortical activation in FMS patients is stronger and has a wider spatial distribution compared to controls that can be detected with fNIRS,” the study authors wrote. “To test this hypothesis we performed fNIRS under painful stimulation in groups of patients with fibromyalgia, unipolar major depression without pain, and healthy controls.”

“Our study adds to the growing evidence of an augmented cerebral activation upon painful stimulation as one contributor to pain in fibromyalgia,” the researchers said. “Additionally, clear differences in cortical activation during a cognitive task could be observed between patients suffering from fibromyalgia and major depression.”

Highlights from the new study include:

  • Patients with fibromyalgia have lower pressure pain thresholds and report on higher pain intensities
  • Fibromyalgia patients show bilateral cerebral activation upon unilateral painful stimulation
  • At-threshold pain stimulation induces cerebral activation only in fibromyalgia patients
  • Cognitive performance is not different between fibromyalgia patients and controls, while prefrontal activation is distinct between patients with fibromyalgia and depression
  • Fibromyalgia patients with lower cortical activation perform better in the VFT than those with high cortical activation

The authors concluded, “The major contribution of our explorative study is that fNIRS, as an easy-to-apply, new imaging technique without side effects, is suitable to investigate pain-associated cortical activity. Furthermore, fibromyalgia patients show a cortical activation pattern upon painful stimulation that is distinct from healthy controls and especially from patients with depression. This strengthens the notion that fibromyalgia is an independent entity rather than being a mere variant of depression.”

These exciting new research findings show increased promise for a better understanding of fibromyalgia’s core foundation, as well as its distinct difference from conditions it is often confused with, like depression.  

This and other newly published studies, coupled with the news National Pain Report broke about fibromyalgia getting its own reimbursement code, gives us a good feeling about the changing public opinion about fibromyalgia – and National Pain Report is working hard to advance this ball.

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Authored by: Staff

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Florida hache

I have pain 24/7 and now I do not speak of it because People does not understand and it make me mad. They treat me like i m complaining for nothing. Now I keep it for myself.
But Its not always Easy to hide my pain. On new years Eve i went to a party and i manage to danse a bit. But since then i m paying for it. I have pain and CAN not do much in the house. Its nice to see That i am not alone in this. Thank You for letthing me talk about my pain.

Norma Bobadilla

Hi,I was diagnosed yesterday with fm,it’s a relief and a sentence for life!!! All at once!!pain and agony for life:just when the fruits of my life labor came to a blossom,now fm……

Catherine Dorrington

I’ve had back problems and nerve pain for 14 years, but only developed fibro after my spinal cord stimulator was fitted. The leads are implanted up and into the epidural space with an internal battery, I’m convinced the neurostimulator activated the dreadful symptoms I’m getting now; my surgeon isn’t so sure but the device is there to block the pain signals from the nerves to the brain. surely the two are connected?
I’m used to chronic pain but this has got to be the worst condition I’ve ever had.feel like my whole body and mind is being attacked from inside.

Dg Wilson

I just want to thank Vivian for her comments on the study and her very articulate description of exactly what I want and I’ve had a hard time articulating thank you Vivian and thank you for the study

Vivian Choat

I was diagnosed several years ago. I have believed this finding to be true all along. I am hopeful with this proof that we can go forward in awareness and treatment to eliminate the pain and loss of energy we suffer. Maybe now we won’t be treated for a mental illness and instead be understood. I also believe we who suffer with the roller coaster affects of fibromyalgia get depressed. We never know what we will be dealing with on a day to day basis. I speak for myself when I say I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of the pain and fatigue after trying to exercise in any form. I’m tired of having the fog. I’m tired of not recovering until three days later when I play with my grandchildren. I pray for energy and less burning and pain everyday. I thank anyone and all of those who study this syndrome in order to find a way for us to have a better quality of life. Thank you.


This study finds “cognitive performance is not different between fibromyalgia patients and controls, while prefrontal activation is distinct between patients with fibromyalgia and depression.”

I think that you will receive comments to the contrary. I’ve certainly experienced much difficulty in concentration. Another study published in “Arthritis Care & Research,” Volume 67, Issue 1, pages 143–150, January 2015 called “Are Fibromyalgia Patients Cognitively Impaired? Objective and Subjective Neuropsychological Evidence” has found “results confirmed the presence of impairments of attention, long-term memory, working memory, and shifting and updating executive functions in FM patients compared with healthy controls. These impairments are reflected in patient reports independently of depressive symptoms.” The study concludes that “(t)he use of a self-reported questionnaire in clinical practice would provide a first and easy screen for the presence of cognitive impairment in FM patients and, in most cases, obviate the need for a time-consuming full neuropsychological test battery.”


It is always great to hear something new has been identified and associated with FMS. But so many times these “advances” are never mentioned anywhere again. I hope this is as significant as it sounds and you keep the public informed. Thank you for the good news!