Five ways to get involved in your fibromyalgia treatment

By Dan Clauw, M.D.

Director, U-M’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center

Living with chronic pain can be overwhelming, but it’s important to understand your fibromyalgia as best you can. Researchers continue to study the condition, and staying up-to-date can help you become a more effective partner in managing your fibromyalgia.

Consider these five tips to take charge of your fibromyalgia treatment:

Dr. Dan Clauw headshot1. Don’t focus on what caused your fibromyalgia.

Scientists don’t always know what caused your illness or why certain events in your life may have led to the symptoms you feel every day. Work with your doctor to determine the best treatments for you and keep looking forward, not backward.

2. Look for treatments, not cures.

Very few chronic medical illnesses have known cures, including fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Many websites purport to have identified a cure for fibromyalgia when in fact they are just trying to take your money.  Until researchers find a cure, focus your energy on treating your symptoms.


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Taking Control of Chronic Pain

Unlike acute pain, such as from a sprained ankle, chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. What causes chronic pain? While we are still working to fully understand this condition, clinical investigators have tested chronic pain patients and found that they often have lower-than-normal levels of endorphins in their spinal fluid. Endorphins are hormones that reduce the sensation of pain and affect emotions.

Daniel J. Clauw, M.D.

Daniel J. Clauw, M.D.

“The spinal cord and brain set the volume control on whether people will feel pain and, for people with chronic pain, the volume is turned up too high,” says Daniel Clauw, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology and director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at U-M.

Dr. Clauw talked with mCancer Partner about managing chronic pain; his remarks may also help people whose pain comes from cancer.

mCancer Partner: What causes chronic pain? 

Dr. Clauw: There are three different underlying mechanisms for chronic pain:

  • Inflammation or damage to peripheral tissues
  • Nerve injury
  • Brain or spinal cord amplification of pain

There is also a familial or genetic connection to chronic pain. In addition, severe, early life trauma can contribute to chronic pain so that, once the traumatized children become adults, their volume control ‘set points’ for how the brain perceives pain are turned up. And once you have chronic pain, it feeds upon itself in a vicious cycle. It increases your stress level because you can’t do what you want, the stress contributes to more pain and to sleep loss, which causes further pain, etc. So there are consequences to pain that need to be managed, too. Continue reading