How Is PTSD Linked To Fibromyalgia?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)¹ and fibromyalgia are two different conditions, but they’re more closely related than many think. People experiencing PTSD are extremely likely to exhibit symptoms of fibromyalgia, and vice versa, than people who haven’t been diagnosed with either condition. 

The two conditions are strong predictors for the other to be present, meaning they must have a similar root cause. So what are these two conditions, and how can they be so intertwined?

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychological disorder that may occur in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event, like a car crash, violent encounter, or being physically or sexually abused. 

After a traumatic event, it’s normal to experience fear, sadness, or anxiety. But sometimes those feelings don’t go away. PTSD is characterized by the failure to recover after a traumatizing event. 

PTSD can last a long time if not treated, sometimes for many years. Those with PTSD may notice that certain places or situations trigger memories of the traumatic event, often accompanied by intense physical and mental reactions.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a disease characterized by widespread, sometimes unexplained, pain throughout the body. It’s often accompanied by fatigue, memory and mood problems, and sleep disturbances.

Although the pain of fibromyalgia may be severe, there’s no evidence of tissue damage in the body. Fibromyalgia is considered a nervous system disorder, with pain signals being sent and/or processed abnormally.

The exact cause of fibromyalgia isn’t known. Fibromyalgia symptoms often develop after a physical trauma, such as major surgery or infection, or after significant mental stress, such as a traumatic experience. Fibromyalgia can also develop without any apparent trigger. 

It’s unclear why certain people develop fibromyalgia, but some people are more likely to develop it than others. Women are much more likely² to develop fibromyalgia than men. Fibromyalgia often co-occurs with other stress-related conditions, such as tension headaches, anxiety, depression, and stomach upsets.

Management of the disease generally includes a combination of stress reduction methods, exercise, and medication. 

How is fibromyalgia linked to PTSD?

A traumatic experience can potentially cause both PTSD and fibromyalgia. In fact, doctors suggest that anyone who has one of these conditions should be checked for the other one because it’s common for people to have both.

However, both disorders are complex, and their interactions are poorly understood. 

Those with PTSD and fibromyalgia have found that their pain is often separate from their trauma, suggesting an underlying mechanism such as central nervous system sensitization.³

PTSD is known to cause the nervous system to become sensitized, so it’s no wonder that PTSD is so closely correlated with fibromyalgia pain.

When triggered, both PTSD and fibromyalgia cause the body to enter fight-or-flight mode and release nerve-sensitizing stress hormones like cortisol. 

Cortisol causes nerves to send signals more easily. When the nerves are overly sensitive, they may send pain signals when no physical cause for pain is present.

What treatments are available for fibromyalgia? 

Treatments for fibromyalgia often aim to reduce the excitability of the nervous system.

This can be done through medications that calm a person, giving their nervous system time to relax. A medication may directly impact how readily the person’s nerves send signals. 

Some of the common drug treatments for fibromyalgia include:


Antidepressants help relieve fibromyalgia symptoms by changing the levels of brain chemicals. The most common type of antidepressant is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which include medications such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft.

Anti-seizure medications

These medications treat epilepsy and may also be able to relieve some of the pain caused by fibromyalgia. These medications work by lowering the sensitivity of the nerves so that fewer pain signals are sent to the brain.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief

This is a very accessible and cost-effective way of managing fibromyalgia pain. However, some over-the-counter medications are unsafe for long-term use, so you should talk to your doctor if your pain doesn’t subside after a week or two.

Some of these drugs have side effects, including nausea, blurry vision, and drowsiness. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any side effects. These can sometimes be managed, or an alternative treatment option may be better for you.

The lowdown

Fibromyalgia and PTSD are closely linked and very often occur together. While fibromyalgia is a life-long condition, it’s not a progressive disease that worsens with time. Management of triggers and symptoms can enable those with fibromyalgia, PTSD, or both to live a happy and full life.


What are the two most common symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Widespread pain is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia, accompanied by excessive fatigue. People with fibromyalgia also often experience cognitive issues, like brain fog and difficulty focusing. 

Does fibromyalgia ever go away?

Fibromyalgia⁴ is a chronic condition, meaning that it won’t go away. Most people continue to experience symptoms in the long term, although some do get better. There are treatment methods that may help to manage the disease and reduce your symptoms. 

Can PTSD cause physical pain?

Physical pain is among the most common physical problems for those who have PTSD. The over-excited nervous system in someone with PTSD is too eager to send signals, often sending pain signals unnecessarily.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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