Normal Pain Versus Fibro Pain
Pain is a normal part of the human experience, but what about pain that seems to serve no purpose, like the widespread musculoskeletal aches that afflict people with fibromyalgia? To better understand the difference between normal pain and the pain in fibromyalgia, we need to distinguish acute pain from chronic pain.
The bothersome toothache that signals a cavity. Throat pain that alerts you to a strep infection. The agony of a broken leg in a skiing accident. These are examples of acute pain, which usually results from a recent injury or disease. Acute pain grabs your attention and demands you take action. But once it's properly treated, the pain disappears, and you recover.
If acute pain — or its cause — isn't treated quickly, the nerves “learn” to be in pain. Changes occur within the nerves and their surrounding structures that cause the pain to persist. If these changes become severe enough, the pain will persist even after the cause has disappeared. Acute pain then turns into chronic pain.
People with fibromyalgia suffer chronic pain, often severe enough that it pervades their very existence. In fibro, the pain is not always preceded by a traumatic event — though sometimes it is — and the injured tissue may appear perfectly fine. So while chronic pain may be telling you that something is wrong, it's often difficult to pinpoint the problem.
Chronic pain can persist for months, even years. Acute pain that recurs over and over again is also called chronic pain. Typically, people who have chronic pain have fewer treatment options because the source of the hurt is often in the nervous system itself. That's why people who have conditions such as fibromyalgia often speak of managing their pain.