Fibromyalgia in Children

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain in muscles and soft tissues around the body. It is an ongoing (chronic) condition. It can affect the neck, shoulders, back, chest, hips, buttocks, arms and legs. The pain may be worse in the morning and evening. Sometimes, the pain may last all day long. The pain may get worse with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety, and stress. The condition affects about 2% to 4% of people in the U.S. It is most common in middle-aged women. But children can also have the condition.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The cause is unknown. Researchers think there may be a link with sleep problems and stress. It may also be linked to immune, endocrine, or biochemical problems.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Each child may feel symptoms a bit differently. Chronic pain is the most common symptom. The pain most often affects the muscles and the points where muscles attach to bones. These are the ligaments and tendons.

Pain may begin in one part of the body, such as the neck and shoulders. Over time the whole body may be affected. The pain ranges from mild to severe. It may feel like burning, soreness, stiffness, aching, or gnawing pain. There may be sore spots in certain parts of the muscles. It may feel similar to arthritis, but it’s not a condition that gets worse. And it doesn't damage muscles or bones. Other common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Medium to severe fatigue
  • Sleep problems at night
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Missing a lot of school

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can seem like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

There are no tests that can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Instead, diagnosis is based on your child’s symptoms and a physical exam. Blood tests, X-rays, or other tests may be done. These are to rule out other causes of your child’s symptoms.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

Your child’s healthcare provider will create a care plan for your child based on the following:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • How sick your child is
  • How well your child handles certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
  • The opinion of the healthcare providers involved in your child's care
  • Your opinion and preference

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but the symptoms can be managed. Mild cases may get better with stress reduction or lifestyle changes. Treatment may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicines, to ease pain and help your child sleep
  • Other pain medicines
  • Exercise and physical therapy, to stretch muscles and improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Relaxation methods to help ease pain
  • Heat treatments
  • Cold treatments once in a while
  • Massage
  • Short-term use of antidepressant medicine at bedtime, to improve sleep and mood

Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.

Helping your child live with fibromyalgia

It is not known if fibromyalgia in a child continues into adulthood. The pain and lack of energy can affect your child’s quality of life and may cause depression. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider if you think your child has depression. Help your child manage his or her symptoms by sticking to the treatment plan. This includes getting enough sleep. Encourage exercise and physical therapy, and find ways to make it fun. Work with your child’s school to make sure your child has help as needed. Your child may also qualify for special help under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

If your child’s symptoms get worse or there are new symptoms, tell the healthcare provider.

Key points about fibromyalgia

  • Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain in muscles and soft tissues all over the body.
  • It is most common in middle-aged women. But children can also have the condition.
  • Symptoms may also include lack of energy (fatigue), sleep problems, headaches, and other problems.
  • It is not known if fibromyalgia in a child continues into adulthood.
  • The pain and lack of energy can affect your child’s quality of life and cause depression.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.