Fibromyalgia can be a particularly nasty illness, not least because people who suffer from it have often been misdiagnosed and occasionally even accused of malingering. But the pain can be very real and very severe. There are some very good reasons for believing that it is a neurological problem involving regions of the brain and spinal cord that are involved in modulating pain.
A new study from the University of Bath and Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in England has raised some intriguing possibilities for treatment. A year ago, researchers from the same institution reported that there is a reorganization of the sensory regions of the brain n people with chronic pain.
In this new study, researchers asked patients to look at a reflection of one arm while moving their other arm in a different direction that was hidden behind a mirror positioned in front of them at a right angle. So one limb was obscured from view behind the mirror while they could clearly see the other limb and its reflection.
This simple experiment created a mismatch between what the brain sees from sensory input and what it feels through the motor system that controls movement.
Of the 29 fibromyalgia patients involved in the study, 26 reported feeling a transient increase in pain, temperature change or heaviness in their hidden limb - all symptoms of a flare up of their condition.
This suggests that a mismatch between sensory and motor neurons could be at the root of the fibromyalgia.
This study adds to the growing body of evidence that many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia may be triggered or perpetuated by a sensory-motor conflict.
That opens up all kinds of new possibilities for treatment.