What does it mean when your body hurts all over, when your muscles are so sore that the slightest pressure causes pain in numerous spots and you can't figure out what's causing it? You might have a condition known as fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia affects about one out of 50 people, with women much more susceptible than men. The main symptom of fibromyalgia is a widespread dull ache affecting multiple spots on the body, typically muscular in nature. Fibromyalgia sufferers also experience pain when certain areas of their body are pressed firmly. These so-called tender points can include the back of the head, the spot between the shoulder blades, the shoulders, the neck, the upper chest, the outer elbows, the upper hips, the sides of the hips, and the insides of the knees.

What exactly causes the pain of fibromyalgia? Doctors believe that the brains of people with fibromyalgia undergo chemical changes that make them more sensitive to pain signals. Not only are they more highly sensitive to pain, the pain receptors in the brain can retain a "memory" of the pain and overreact to even minor discomfort. These changes can be brought on by stress, such as from a traumatic event, or some type of illness or injury.

What are some other conditions and factors associated with fibromyalgia?

  • Restless sleep. While doctors don't know whether sleep disturbances are a cause or effect of fibromyalgia, they do know that people who have sleep disorders often have the condition.
  • Family history. If you have relatives with the disease, you may be more likely to have fibromyalgia.
  • Rheumatic disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus may be more susceptible to fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is not life threatening and doesn't tend to worsen over time. The best treatments for this condition include avoiding stress, getting plenty of rest, and exercising regularly. Alternative treatments you may be interested in trying include acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage. If you're suffering a lot, you might also consider medication, such as over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers. Finally, talk to your doctor about whether antidepressants and/or counseling are things that might help you cope emotionally with the discomfort of this condition.