Fibromyalgia and Childhood Abuse: Is There A Link?

Fibromyalgia and Childhood Abuse: Is There A Link?

By Staff.

A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine has shown that women Veterans being treated for fibromyalgia exhibit high rates of childhood abuse.

With female Veterans representing a growing segment of the VA population, standardized screening for military sexual trauma (MST) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are helpful in providing complete care to patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. However, there is currently no standard screening practice for childhood abuse history in these patients.

Researchers from the VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) examined a subset of women from a larger study of women Veterans’ fibromyalgia care experiences at the VA to evaluate the relationship between child abuse history and MST in this patient population.

They found that of the population of female Veterans with fibromyalgia included in the study, 90.9 percent reported experience of MST (of which 68.2 percent reported history of sexual assault). In addition, the average Child Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) score for these patients indicated moderate to high exposure to abuse in childhood, with many experiencing sexual abuse and emotional neglect. Women Veterans with greater MST exposure reported higher degrees of both childhood abuse and PTSD severity. The researchers conclude that screening for childhood trauma in women Veterans being treated for fibromyalgia would yield important information that may enhance treatment.

“Our fibromyalgia patients have often told us that their disease feels ‘invisible’ at times. We believe these preliminary study results may help female Veterans with fibromyalgia seek treatment for both their physical symptoms and trauma histories,” explained corresponding author Megan Gerber, MD, MPH, medical director of women’s health at VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) and associate professor of medicine at BUSM. “The VA is uniquely positioned to treat a complex condition like fibromyalgia and additional research is underway here to better understand interventions for this disabling chronic pain syndrome.”

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain with associated fatigue, sleep and mood issues that has been linked to exposure to interpersonal trauma, such as childhood abuse.

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All the women I’ve ever met who have FM have had trauma, either recently or in the past. I often wondered if there was a link.
Seems there well may be


Unfortunately I was molested as a child and verbally abused, so for me this make sense.

Ms Melody

well, I have fibro, arthritis, ptsd, depression, anxiety, graves disease, rsd and I was abused horribly as a child -


I’m going to have to agree with Beth and Heather here. I had a fantastic childhood and was never abused in any way. I think this is another way for doctors to think it’s all in our head. Why would they think to even do a study like this? Why would they involve only women who are V. A. and been abused? I was diagnosed almost 10 years ago and now I also have CRPS for the last 5 years from a knee replacement that became infected and I can say I still am unsure what symptoms go to which disease.

Folks, saying that there’s a link between childhood abuse & fm doesn’t mean that if there was childhood abuse fm is guaranteed, nor the converse -that if one has fm there MUST have been childhood abuse; “link” doesn’t mean “required.” This does not negate fm for anyone who wasn’t abused as a child.

“Link” means just that -a link; being abused as a child appears to make it more likely for the person to have fm. Just like being abused as a child may make it more likely for the person to have asthma, or a number of other conditions. But being abused as a child doesn’t guarantee the person will have fm or any of the conditions. Just as not being abused as a child doesn’t make it impossible for the person to have certain conditions. The fact that someone is diagnosed with fm late in life means…they were diagnosed late in life. Period. FM is a complex condition characterized by symptoms that can point to a lot of different things, which is largely the reason it took so long for it to be recognized.*

Statistics don’t apply to individual cases, just like if you flip a coin twice, you’re not guaranteed to come up heads one of those times. If you flip a coin a thousand times, you’ll probably come up heads about half the time, but that’s it; it’s not guaranteed. Just like a link doesn’t mean an absolute.

*Of course, the state of Oregon has decided to go retrograde with its medical diagnoses and legislate that fm is, once again, nothing but “chronic fatigue” & the answer is more exercise. And may all the Oregon bureaucrats instantly come down with that “chronic fatigue” forever, and go without the treatments they want to refuse the rest of us. I expect these Einsteins to declare any day now that it’s really an “imbalance of bodily humors”and the way to treat it is to bleed the patient, & bring back fleams & blood bowls.


Seriously! I was born with Fibromyalgia. It has absolutely nothing to do with childhood abuse. Please stop spreading false narratives of this life altering and extremely painful, far more than any other pain condition and it’s cause.

laura raley

I have known this for years. What happens is when children are afraid they tense up their little bodies. While as adults we also do but we know to stop and we are not afraid as much as we were as a child. I was severely abused and the result ha been killing me, slowly but surely and severely painfully. My body had other tissue issues because of abuse. along with fibromyalgia.
The question doctor’s must know is does the tensing up cause the nerves to go haywire because they’re being strangled by knots and ropey bands of tissue or another problem. When you are misdiagnosed or diagnosed with fibromyalgia go get a deep tissue massage. Find out if you have tissue issues and if you fo find help. Don’t wait, find doctor’s with correct knowledge. Look up Chronic Myofascial Pain a Fibromyalgia. Read. And learn. Don’t wait, life can be very short

Victim left suffering...

Agree, Beth and Heather. I’m getting sick and tired of these isolated little studies from VA telling the world bull burgers.

If they’re all so right, then explain why it took decades for any health pro to even acknowledge fibryo????? According to the so called scientific studies,” then the millions with fibryo are just a bunch of depressed ppl, had nothing but nightmares for childhoods, were victims of sexual abuse. Yeah, right.🐬 Don’t go, like CFS, which also was considered by health “care” community as a bogus diagnosis…another illness which went ignored, undiagnosed, untreated and wrongly assumed to be a bunny diagnosis. How does anyone in health care discard millions of ppl with same signs, symptoms, same chief complaints anyway?

I know someone who developed fibryo in his 80’s! He passed away earlier this year at 93 yo and suffered horribly… Was finally given low dose MS contin about 6 no before he died ( helped a lot) after all the alternative treatments and antidepressants100% failed. He was told aquatherapy for a few yrs. As He said during appt with his Dr., “You come to my home and if you can get me out of bed, I’ll make the effort to go to a pool.” Utterly ridiculous.

Maureen M.

Interesting study but I wholeheartedly agree with Beth and Heather. Studies like these can present some common effects on those female vets histories but FM is surely a disease that does not discriminate.
I hav read many times in my own research that there may be a correlation with traumatic histories and FM. I’ve also r ad that it may be viral driven or inherited so there ya go! May the scientific research continue. Regardless, we with FM suffer greatly.

Debra Kurtz

I am a woman with fibromyalgia and I can assure you that I was NOT sexually abused. The so called study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine is appalling. It is also sexist as it targets women in it`s study. My pain is real and I suffer every day. When I was on oxycodone my pain and other symptoms were alleviated to some extent. Still I do not regret firing my pain doctor, he cut my medicine too much to help me any longer. This study makes it even worse for people with our disease because every doctor will use it as an excuse.

Sue B

P. S. Read Dr. Candace Pert’s work. Our experiences are recorded in our cells. Our biography does become our biology: ie. Neropeptides and receptor sites, etc. We are a badly wounded society in severe need of healing.

Sue B

Just look at mankind’s history. Females have always been treated horrendously-from disrespect and marginalizing to hate crimes including sexual trafficing. Maybe we should learn from our past and start communicating with respect and not from inborn prejudices. Just a thought.

Jeremy Goodwin, MS, MD

Just look at the ACE studies that began in the 1990’s. Adverse Childhood Experiences are defined and analysed in long term outcome studies. There are Ted talks and Wikipedia summaries as a start for those interested. The effects of outward stressors on our physiology, nervous system development and the expression of our genetic potential is profound. Fortunately, with Neuro plasticity as another important guiding principle, many of the effects are reversible. But while some avenues to the fibromyalgia syndrome may include this, there are likely many other causes too. It is a syndrome and not a disease. The end product may look similar in most but the different reactions to different treatments suggests that the underlying mechanisms differ from person to person.


There SHOULD BE NO standardized screening. Child abuse may have happened to some who have fibro but this data culling is patently unfair and can cause rush to judgement for some. WE ARE NOT NUMBERS- STOP ALGORITHMS! Unless They can prove it happens to ALL then this needs to cease. WE ARE NOT NUMBERS- STOP ALGORITHMS


Regarding some respondents’ taking issue with possible links to childhood trauma, I agree with them and totally get that Fibromyalgia cannot be pinned down to several “reasons.” It’s just too early in the research of this horrible, debilitating disease to pin it down.

Having said that, I happen to be a longtime Fibro sufferer on disability, in generalized pain every day, watching the world go by at home from the inside of the windows. I am a survivor of abuse, according to Dr. Phil, as my parents physically fought when I was a little girl, to my and my sister’s horror. Of course my mother was no match. What I remember most is the blood dripping down the walls, mixed with the contents of broken liquor bottles and glass from lamps, etc.

So, yeah.
My first pain doctor was an grandfatherly sweetheart who recognizedin me, right off the bat, a grownup with those awful memories he coaxed out of me. He had written four books on chronic pain and wrote that a strikingly large number of his patients had a similar history.

He was retiring when the opioid fiasco went into high gear. It’s too bad the good doctors retired or retreated from our care. I keep hoping a synthetic compound will be discovered, or the quacking ducks who started all this just stop and go back to the ponds where they came from. My sister- and brother pain warriors and I are darn tired.

Childhood abuse or not, Fibromyalgia is REAL.

Brenda Stapleton

Of course, I would love to know a cause. However, a cross-section of the population would be more effective if it wasn’t limited to just females and veterans. I am assuming this was just a start to somewhere try to piece PTSD with Fibromyalgia, but whether the disease is a co-morbidity of a neurological disorder or a mental or emotional disorder is only relevant if you use an appropriate selection of participants for the study.

CRPS survivor

While I realize that Fibro is troublesome it’s nothing like CRPS. I don’t even notice the Fibro in comparison. I fear that people claiming to have Chronic Pain with Fibro are part of the problem we face today. It’s no where near as painful or as debilitating as CRPS or nerve damage. It can easily be managed without pain meds which also leads to watering down our message.
A little exercise and Cymbalta or Neurontin will allow someone with Fibro to work and live a normal life. The same cannot be said for the rest of us.
When we have people representing us with Fibro we lose our true message.


Not a veteran, I have fibromyalgia and had a wonderful childhood. Please do not devalue the physical reality of a disease by continuing to propegate prior emotional connections to chronic pain disorders. Since research cannot isolate nor identify a cause or treatment for this invisible, devastating condition it seems to seek cause/effect by laying blame on emotional connections. I find this offensive. This study was not a cross section of all fibromyalgia sufferers.


Doctors already look for ways to avoid treating very real symptoms that actually limit a patient’s ability to participate in meaningful activities. If they say it is all in our heads and they refuse treating physical symptoms, they take mothers away from children, grandmothers away from family. There has got to also be an acknowledgment of the reality of physical symptoms and a validation of the patient’s experience. And proper treatment for symptom intervention.

As with many things, a balanced approach is warranted and most effective.

I once had a podiatrist refuse to treat my plantar fasciitis “because (I) was going to hurt anyway” because of the fibromyalgia. Physical therapists are taught not to do massage for fibromyalgia patients because we will become “addicted to touch” and not be willing to exercise. Looser muscles after massage made my workouts more effective because I had a better range of muscles. Thank God the physical therapist had a different approach. I had years of ineffective physical therapy and was reluctant to “try again.” I learned a lot and have a gym membership where I continue being physically active.

Without treatment for symptoms, I slept worse (which worsens symptoms), was less active and struggled to continue to work.