In his book, Fibromyalgia, Up Close and Personal, Dr. Mark J. Pellegrino says he often sees “many youngsters with fibromyalgia.” The doctor, who has fibromyalgia, has a clinical practice where he has seen and treated more than 20,000 fibromyalgia patients.
He specializes in rehabilitation and physical medicine. Dr. Pellegrino says that children with fibromyalgia who have been correctly diagnosed at a young age can learn how to effectively manage their condition. About two-thirds of children with fibromyalgia will have symptoms that stabilize or improve over time.
He says that fibromyalgia in children can be significantly different symptom-wise than fibromyalgia in adults. It also often requires different strategies to treat.
Risk Factors and Triggers
There are some risk factors that make it more likely for a child to have fibromyalgia.
One of the biggest risk factors is genetics. Children who have a parent or sibling with the condition have a higher risk of getting fibromyalgia. The same is true of children with a parent or sibling with any type of connective tissue disease.
Forward posturing children (those with rounded shoulders) and those with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) tend to be at a higher risk. Dr. Pellegrino says this is because postural changes such as these put a great deal of strain on the back which is traumatic to the muscles and the joints which can later trigger fibromyalgia.
Competitive sports can put children at risk. Basically any sport that stresses the muscles, and trigger the condition, especially in children with a genetic vulnerability. Gymnastics can be especially hard on the body. Other sports that could trigger fibromyalgia include dancing and tennis.
Statistically, girls are more likely to get fibromyalgia than boys. The gap is smaller than the difference in the number of women and men diagnosed with the condition. About 60 percent of diagnosed cases of fibromyalgia in youth under 18 are girls. Forty percent are boys. Among adults only one man per six women has the condition.
Triggers and causes of fibromyalgia in children are genetics, trauma (from some types of competitive sports, a serious fall or a car accident), or a viral infection like mononucleosis.
Dr. Pellegrino says that the generalized widespread pain that many adults experience isn’t necessarily a symptom of the condition in children. Children often feel increased pain during growth spurts. Researchers don’t know why this is the case but suspect it might be because the nerves grow slower than the rest of the body which could result in more nerve pain.
Leg pains are common in children with the condition. In the past these leg pains have been called growing pains. Not every leg pain is a symptom of fibromyalgia. Children with the condition will find that their leg pain gets worse at night and often appears in the form of restless leg syndrome.
Like adults, children with fibro often have a hard time falling asleep. They may repeatedly wake up at night. They may not always feel tired, but they will have bouts of exhaustion where they don’t want to do anything. This fatigue can often end up in difficulty concentrating at school because the child is so tired. Reading and reading comprehension is one of the first academic tasks a child might have a hard time doing. Children might also complain about blurred vision.
Abdominal pain and headaches are common. Frequent stomach pain and aches could also be early signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Headaches are often experienced with shoulder or neck pain and it’s common for dry eyes to accompany the headaches.
Often specific treatment isn’t necessary for children under 16. If the fibromyalgia is significantly impacting the child’s life so he or she can’t function, treatments could include mild pain medication, low amounts of antidepressants or sleep inducing/relaxing drugs. Lifestyle changes like class rescheduling, excuse for school gym and different types of backpacks might also be considered for treatment.