Is Fibromyalgia Causing Your Neck Pain?

Could your neck pain be a symptom of fibromyalgia?

This article offers an in-depth examination of fibromyalgia as a potential cause of neck pain. We detail the most common signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia, and possible causes, and look at the various treatments for neck pain related to fibromyalgia.

Cause of fibromyalgia neck pain

If you're grappling with persistent neck pain, it's natural to seek explanations for your discomfort. And if you’ve found your way here, you’re probably also wondering if fibromyalgia could have a part to play.

So, what is fibromyalgia, and how can it cause neck pain?

Fibromyalgia is a widespread chronic pain condition. That means it can cause pain all over the body, and that the pain has been going on for at least three months. In addition to pain, fibromyalgia symptoms can be extremely varied. This is because they stem from an overloaded central nervous system – something that runs through and impacts the entire body.

This overload is called central sensitization.

Our central nervous system processes countless stimuli and signals every day, everything from the brush of clothing on your skin to temperature changes, to slamming your finger in the door. And it responds to them.

In central sensitization, the system can get stuck on high alert and become overprotective. In this situation, it can respond to “safe” signals (such as a breeze from a fan) with pain, fatigue and other challenging symptoms. This can result in the neck muscles and nerves responding with pain to what would normally not be painful.

The pain of fibro is not a result of physical damage to the body. But even so, the pain is still just as real and intense.

Research shows that fibro can run in families and your genes can make you more likely to develop the condition. For most people, difficult physical or emotional events (such as an injury, accident or lots of stress) are then what cause the condition to kick into life. 

How to tell if your neck pain is fibromyalgia

Now we know what fibromyalgia is, what does fibromyalgia neck pain feel like?

Fibromyalgia neck pain is typically a persistent, dull ache or throbbing sensation that can intensify into sharp, severe pains. The pain usually stems from the muscles, rather than the joints, although the muscles are not physically damaged.

Some people have specific tender points on the neck for fibromyalgia. These are specific spots – usually at the back of the neck, near where the base of the skull meets the neck (suboccipital muscle insertions) and just above the collarbone (the trapezius muscle) – that are exceptionally sensitive to pressure.

Fibromyalgia can also cause a stiff neck, particularly when you first wake up or after prolonged periods of inactivity. The muscles might feel tight, and might be accompanied by pain.

To help determine if fibromyalgia is the root cause of your neck discomfort, consider the following:

  • Is your pain consistent and localized? Or does it tend to move around or come and go? A hallmark of fibromyalgia is pain that is not confined to one area but can move and change, literally with the weather.
  • Do you have neck pain and dizziness? Dizziness often comes with fibro, sometimes due to nervous system dysfunction, medication side effects, or comorbid conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Do you have other symptoms? Fibromyalgia often presents with additional symptoms such as, fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive challenges known as "fibro fog", gut symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome, and mood and emotional changes, such as being easily irritated, nervous, or upset.

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Diagnostic process

In order to diagnose fibromyalgia, doctors need to rule out all other possible causes of your symptoms, because there isn’t a definitive test for fibro itself. Your symptoms also need to have been going on for at least three months.

Your doctor or physician might check your medical history, conduct physical examinations (including checking tender points!), test urine and blood tests, or send you for imaging scans such as X-rays. They might also discuss the range and severity of your symptoms, which is often evaluated through the widespread pain index (WPI) and symptom severity score (SSS).

Strategies for relieving neck pain in fibromyalgia

There are many methods for addressing fibromyalgia pain, which can include medication, physical therapy and various alternative treatments. The type of treatment, or combination of treatments, is usually chosen based on your specific symptoms and how you respond to different therapies.

Retraining your pain response

A multi-disciplinary approach is one of the most effective for treating fibromyalgia and any associated pain. This includes addressing the emotions, thoughts and beliefs around your pain, as well as recommended diet and lifestyle interventions.

The MoreGoodDays® treatment approach is based on the latest science and medical information. It uses a three-step strategy to help you learn about your pain, understand your triggers and retrain your pain system to minimize chronic pain.

In addition to learning about pain science and the way your unique set of circumstances impacts your pain, this strategy includes:

  • Prompts and guided movements and exercises, because recent studies highlight that regular exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your overall pain levels. Moving more also positively affects mood and can lead to structural and functional improvements in muscles and joints.
  • Help with activity pacing, to gradually get you able to do more, without exacerbating your pain. This strategy helps diminish fatigue and emotional distress while enhancing overall physical functionality.
  • Ways to boost your sleep quality, because pain, fatigue, stress and other sensitivities can be made worse by a lack of quality sleep. We understand how much your fibromyalgia can contribute to sleep troubles such as difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night and non-restorative sleep (waking up just as tired as when you went to bed).
  • Stress management, because over 80% of people who live with fibromyalgia find that stress is a major factor for flare-ups and overall pain levels, and having tools to better cope with the stressful things in life can be a huge relief. Practices such as mindfulness exercises and relaxation methods can help lower overall stress levels, which may lead to relief from not only neck discomfort but also other related symptoms of this condition.
  • How nutrition can impact your pain and other symptoms, and simple changes that you can make to give your gut, and the rest of your body, what it needs.

Our guided program offers dedicated support to help you reduce the severity of your pain, reduce the frequency of flare-ups and tackle the emotional distress that chronic conditions like fibromyalgia can cause. Download our mobile app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store for immediate access to some of our content and to see your support options.

Medication & alternative therapies

Medications (such as over-the-counter pain relief, pain and inflammation modulators, and antidepressants) when properly prescribed and discussed with your healthcare professional, can bring great short-term relief. Research shows that pain relief from medicines usually gets weaker over time, so we advocate for using medication as a facilitator for therapeutic activities rather than just as pain relievers. They can enable you to engage more effectively in psychological and physical therapies that progressively retrain your body and modify your pain response over time. Always discuss your medications with your doctor or pharmacist.

There are also many alternative therapies that can bring you short-term symptom relief when managing neck pain and other pain associated with fibromyalgia. These include:

  • massage therapy
  • acupuncture
  • chiropractic care.

A new study has looked at the potential of mesotherapy – injecting medications and pharmaceuticals into a localized site – as a treatment for fibromyalgia neck pain. The participants of the study showed significant reductions in pain. However, it was a very small sample size and the study hasn’t been backed up with other research yet, so it’s too early to tell if this will become a viable treatment option.

As with all medications, everyone is different, so listen to your body and always talk with your healthcare team to find out what works best for you.

To learn more, sign up for a free chat and get started on the next part of your journey.