Fibromyalgia syndrome is a common disorder characterized by multiple tender points, widespread deep muscle pain, sleep disturbance, fatigue, and depression. The term fibromyalgia comes from the Latin word for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek terms for muscle (myo) and pain (algia).
What are tender points? Tender points are pain points or localized areas of tenderness around joints, but not the joints themselves. These tender points hurt when pressed with a finger. Tender points are often not deep areas of pain. Instead, they are superficial areas seemingly under the surface of the skin, such as the area over the elbow or shoulder.
Are tender points large areas of pain? No. The actual size of the point of most tenderness is usually very small, about the size of a penny. These areas are much more sensitive than other nearby areas. In fact, pressure on one of the tender points with a finger will cause pain that makes the person flinch or pull back. Tender points are scattered over the neck, back, chest, elbows, hips, buttocks, and knees.
What causes tender points? The cause of these pressure points is not known. Even though it would seem these areas might be inflamed, researchers have not found particular signs of inflammation when examining the tissue. What is known is that the locations of tender points are not random. They occur in predictable places on the body. That means many people with fibromyalgia experience similar symptoms with tender points.
Can my doctor diagnose fibromyalgia from the tender points? Your doctor can test the painful tender points during an examination.Yet even with tender points, you need to tell your doctor about the exact pain you feel in those areas. You also need to tell the doctor about your other symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as deep muscle pain, fatigue, sleep problems, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and more. When a doctor tests tender points for pain, he or she will also check “control” points or other non-tender points on your body to make sure you don’t react to these as well.