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.

Leave a Comment