Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia both cause inflammation and pain, as well as other symptoms that superficially appear similar in people who suffer from these conditions. Indeed, it can be difficult for both the patient and the caregiver to distinguish between arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a medical condition of unknown cause that seems to occur mainly in women between the ages of 20 and 50. Patients experience pain over their entire body, along with diffuse tenderness in their joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. This condition has been linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms.
Locations where fibromyalgia pain occurs are called tender points, from where patients experience mild to severe radiating pain into the body. Physical or emotional trauma, an abnormal pain response, sleep disturbances and even an unknown infectious agent are believed to be possible triggers.
In arthritis, the protective cartilage that protects bones and joints wears out, leading to local pain and inflammation. Movement and flexibility in the neck and back may be affected, along with a feeling of weakness or numbness in legs or arms. Other symptoms include intermittent back pain, a stiff back in the morning and after activity that gets better after rest, neck pain and tenderness, lower back pain that runs down into the lower extremities, and difficulty bending, walking, or stretching.
Although fibromyalgia and arthritis are sometimes believed to be related to each other, fibromyalgia is not really a disease of the joints. It does not cause inflammation or damage to the joints, muscles, or other tissues, although patients may complain that their joints feel swollen. Widespread pain associated with tender points is also consistent with fibromyalgia and not rheumatoid arthritis.
However, fibromyalgia, like arthritis, is considered to be a rheumatic condition that interferes with joint function and/or soft tissues and causes chronic pain.
Treatment with massage and acupuncture under the supervision of a physician or certified physiotherapist are both effective ways to treat fibromyalgia and arthritis. Both methods significantly reduce fatigue and anxiety and ease pain in these conditions.
Fibromyalgia is usually treated with alternative approaches such as dietary supplements, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care and biofeedback.
For arthritis, treatment is usually directed towards improving joint function and flexibility. Light aerobic activity is used to maintain fitness, and strengthening exercises are used to make muscles that support joints stronger. Also, range-of-motion exercises are used to increase joint flexibility and make them more supple.
In conclusion, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia may cause similar symptoms in their patients, but they are believed to be of different origin. To learn more about both conditions please read: Fibromyalgia and Arthritis of the spine.