Chronic Pain Is More Than Just Physical

Chronic Pain Is More Than Just Physical

Through the Fog
Chronic pain is not only physically taxing, but it takes a toll on us emotionally as well. It’s a kind of Catch 22: the more physical pain we have, the more emotionally distressed we can become. The more emotionally distressed we become, the more our physical pain increases. Such is our journey with fibromyalgia. There’s also a spiritual, personality, and physical component.

As such, I would like to share and discuss several components of FM that can have an impact on health and well-being.

Emotional: Negative emotions are so draining, and can actually contribute to an increase in our physical pain. We can go through a range of emotions with FM, such as anger, grief, fear, sadness, and depression. These are all normal emotions to have. We need to acknowledge them and work through them.

Psychological: Day in and day out life with FM can negatively affect our mental health and sense of well-being. Perhaps you feel anxious and experience panic attacks. Perhaps you experience depression and feel hopeless. If this is you, I would encourage you to seek counseling. Good counseling has been a huge help to me.

Spiritual: According to an article in FMCPA, titled “Spirituality in Healing,” many of our spiritual beliefs shape the way we view our pain. Those of us with FM often find prayer helpful, and use it more than the general population to cope with our illness. Spiritual coping does indeed have a positive impact on our pain and treatment in general.

Personality: I don’t believe anyone can go through the daily grind of a chronic illness like FM without changes to their personality in some way. There’s a saying about hard times making you bitter or making you better. Believe me, I totally understand feeling bitter, but you isolate yourself even more as people pull away. I choose to allow it to make me better. Chronic pain can rob us of our ambitions, dreams, and the ability to be adventurous, which can be very taxing.

Physically: FM can cause pain in so many areas — the neck, shoulders, hips, back, hands, feet, head, etc. — it makes it difficult to just rest and relax. We always feel the need to be vigilant, which is so wearying. I believe it’s important to keep our pain as under control as we can. According to a study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, chronic pain harms the brain. “Researchers found that in a healthy brain all the regions exist in a state of equilibrium,” a Northwestern press release on the 2008 study stated.  “When one region is active, the others quiet down. But in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex mostly associated with emotion ‘never shuts up,'” the release continued, quoting  Dante Chialvo, the study’s lead author and an associate research professor of physiology at the Feinberg School. Chiavlo added, “The areas that are affected fail to deactivate when they should.”

Chronic FM pain also affects sleep, the ability to get around and be active, weight gain or loss, and muscle atrophy to name just a few.

The chronic pain of FM is a challenge, and I’m aware that that’s an understatement. We need to take care of and address all the ways that our chronic pain impacts us.

I would love to hear your thoughts.


Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.


  1. Denise Bault says:

    Robin, boy did you hit the nail on the head! This is by far one of the best and most descriptive articles I’ve read. I believe our brains do change because of our chronic pain and fatigue. Our entire body seems to simply go haywire. Not necessarily all at once…in my opinion it does progress. That’s part of the confusion of this horrible disease. Now, if someone were to tell you that you were going to be “tortured” for many, many years, by an unseen yet inescapable culprit; that it would upend your entire world in ways you’d NEVER IMAGINED; that the “torture” would change and confuse you daily; that people are not going to see the “torture” that’s taking place, so they probably aren’t going to believe it’s happening to you, WELL… I think we’d all run for the hills screaming bloody murder! (BTW- when I use the term “torture,” I mean it in one of it’s most basic forms i.e. constant pain and sleep deprivation. After all, isn’t that what they do to prisoners of war?) If we are still living, we are all WARRIORS to have survived thus far the torture of fibromyalgia! I feel blessed to have my fellow warriors with me through this website. Thanks again Robin. And thanks to all the other brave people who are fighting this horrible, horrible illness and sharing their struggles. You are each an honorable warrior. Always remember that…in fact, tell yourself daily!

    • Tess van den Bergh says:

      Thank you so much Denise for your reply. I needed to hear that I am an honorable warrior today. I have lost motivation in some areas to do what needs to be done for after almost 30 years of chronic pain some days it has the best of me. And that’s ok as I am an honorable warrior and we keep going.

  2. Heidi says:

    “We always feel the need to be vigilant, which is so wearying. I believe it’s important to keep our pain as under control as we can.” I am hoping for some clarification on these sentences. What do you mean by being vigilant? And I am just not certain what you mean by keeping the fibro pain under control. Just asking.

    Thank you for your upbeat and helpful article.

    • Robin Dix says:

      Heidi, what I mean is that we have pain everywhere and we need to be vigilant or always aware of where our pain is and it’s important to keep it as under control as we can. That way, we can relax more and feel better physically. Taking pain meds, using heat, etc. are all a part of that. Does that answer your question?

      • Mandy says:

        I think part of being aware and vigilant is knowing what causes your body to flare and what allows your body to relax and possibly feel better sometimes. Every one of us is different and, therefore, reacts to and deals with pain differently. We all have certain triggers and being aware of those and avoiding them when it’s possible, or having coping strategies in place when avoidance is out of our control is necessary. Whether this is with medication, exercise, rest, or any other type of methods we use to help ourselves. I hope this helps Heidi and thank you Robin for your always informative articles. I love reading them and the comments that follow!

  3. Connie Alvarez says:

    This is a great article.It really hits home for me.My pa in has increased recently due to weight gain and I am blessed to have a wonderful counselor.Like most of us with Fibro, I deal with depression abd anxiety.Yes,I am a warrior and will never give up.Life is too beautiful to miss out.Robin you are just fabulous and I appreciate your outlook.I am truly blessed every day.Much love and gentle hugs to you all.

  4. Sherry Mulhollan says:

    I loved your article. Some days the pain is unbearable, but life goes on. It is so nice to read about others and their journey. There are some people who just don’t get it, and I am not sure they ever will.

  5. Loraine says:

    Thanks Robin for this article filled with little gems of wisdom. I am only one month into being diagnosed with fibro at the age of almost 71. Being a full-time caregiver for my husband makes this an extra challenge. I am blessed that I have a wonderful family doctor who has encouraged me to eat naturally (gluten/sugar free), exercise regularly even if it’s only a 30 minute walk, and get a massage twice a month. So I have been able to keep the pain low enough to function pretty well. Also my family, friends, and church have helped keep my spirits up.

  6. Marsha Elaine says:

    ” These are all normal emotions to have. We need to acknowledge them and work through them.”
    Are you kidding??? You don’t ‘work through’ the emotions that are caused by FMS/ME. The pain never stops? And that is only the beginning. I am 66 now and as I have lived with this disease, a steady march of more and more awful symptoms/connected conditions has come at me. Just the moment I feel as though I have worked through things, something else comes up. My latest is a 3-month-long blinding headache. It’s not a migraine, although I get those, too. My doctor tells me it is caused by my muscles, but has done no testing other than to touch the base of my neck a couple times. Doctors don’t know anything about this disease; what causes it, what the disease process is, how to treat it nor how to talk to their patients. While I can understand how that could happen (doctors want to cure you, not care for someone who is only going to suffer until they are dead), I think it is their responsibility to learn as much as they can about this disease process and cut their patients some slack.
    Yes, I feel sorry for my doctor whom I rarely see anymore because he can’t do anything to help me, but I at least want him to be sympathetic enough to give me tests or treatments, even if they are not officially recommended for treating FMS/ME, if only to rule other things out. Honestly, I am at the end of my rope.
    My mother had FMS/ME and finally just gave up and stopped eating until she was dead. I don’t plan to do anything so drawn out myself, but I can easily see that the day will come when I just can’t live with this anymore, being as isolated as I am now and so irritable that nobody wants to be in my presence. I was thinking maybe Negan from The Walking Dead could hit me in the head with his barbed-wire baseball bat and be done with it.

      • Marie says:

        Robin , I would like to say that WE are all very lucky to have you in our court ! I am 68 yrs old and some of the symptoms still surprise me . I thought I knew them all …Ha! and Ha! FMS/ME is definitely a one fits one not a one fits ALL . I choose to tell people the following; there are good days and there are very bad days, it is not a complaint but it is my reality and I manage it to the best of my ability with the resources that I have at my disposal. What people choose to believe belongs to them ,I have had many a headache “trying to explain ” to no avail .
        I no longer have the energy to deal with “toxic” people, so I don’t ! I am with Denise …..this is the best article EVER !
        Marsha, if I may ,I have occipital neuralgia and the “Pain Specialist” injects me (I am just going to say “medication) until you have a chance to read regarding the above . Good luck to you !
        Robin , once again thank you ever so much and I send you and everyone warm and gentle hugs !

        • Robin Dix says:

          Marie, thanks so much, that really warmed my heart! Gentle hugs back to you. ? We do need to get those toxic people out of our lives, because they really are detrimental to our health. Wish we could sit and share a cup of tea ?

    • Deb Clarke says:

      I’m so sorry you have this. I do too and have lost much because of it. I’ll be 60 this month. Mine started when I was about 30. Years of searching for the answers left me so empty and always in so much pain. We spent thousands of dollars trying to find the reason and dealing with the chronic pain. My husband divorced me 3 years ago because he couldn’t handle it anymore. The rejection I’ve experienced has sent spiraling down and thought I’d never come back. I’m still working hard on finding ways to reverse the damage on my health and my relationships. People don’t know how to deal with us. Recently, I came across a website on YouTube. By accident or by Divine Direction, I can’t say; but I do know this, Dr. Berg has the right idea and has researched for 25 years. Since listening to his videos, I have followed his suggestions and feel better than I have in years. I’ve also lost 25 pounds and that is a major battle for me. I started doing this back in March 2017. It is June 12, 2017 and I have not only lost this weight but can now walk up to 2 miles a day when I didn’t think I could walk a 1/2 a block. Yes, I’m still in pain, yes I’m still struggling with depression, yes I’m still alone…..but with this information I have finally been successful at something. I hope this will encourage you and know that I DO UNDERSTAND EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL.

    • Jennie Huston says:

      I’m with you. After several years I’ve stopped seeking help. I’ve lost everyone and everything I’ve ever cared about. Once the dog is gone maybe I’ll be able to not eat.

  7. liz nakazawa says:


    Thank you for such a compassionate, insightful, thoughtful and intelligent article that is helping/going to help many, many fibro. sufferers. I am trying to really notice what sets my pain off and sometimes it is as simple as being around grouchy, negative people. Then, I try to avoid them and my pain gets better! Thanks, again!

  8. Denise Bault says:

    I feel your pain and frustration! Please find another doctor, preferably a pain management one. If you can find the right combo of drugs, therapies, etc. it can make life worth living in the moment! My heart so goes out to you…

  9. Dear Robin,I woke up this morning in a great deal of pain, and depressed.I believe that chronic pain does change our brain over time. with the arrival of spring,and all the extra work to be done outside, can’t,for the life of me,figure out how i am going to do it!!! I still put a lot of pressure on myself to get things done.I visit this site often,to remind myself that i’m not alone in this,and to try not to overdo it and pay the price of a painful flare.I can work myself right into a full blown panic attack!!I am my own worst enemy.Hears to accepting the things we cannot change.Fibro is one of those things for me.Thank you for your heartfelt and informative posts.

    • Loraine says:

      I too will soon be facing the outside yard work. I have decided the best way to handle it is to divide it into little pieces. If it takes me longer, then so be it. But my health is more important than a prize winning yard. If I have to find a youngster to do the mowing, then that is what I have to do. Our health has to be our first priority.

  10. Colleen says:

    Thank you for your article. I told my primary care doctor that my headache/shoulder pain was a 7 and she said that it can’t be a 7 or you would not be able to get out of bed. I was so offended. I live in 4-5 pain every day and it’s like a shroud — a wet, heavy wool blanket I carry on top of me everywhere. Chronic pain is different than acute pain. I’ve had children by natural birth (no pain relievers) and so that pain for me is an 8 or 9. So when I say my pain is 7, this means that the pain is to the point where I can’t think of anything else and I pray for the end of the day so I can collapse into my recliner/bed — I’m irritable, depressed and discouraged. It’s beyond my ability to “fake being well” when the pain is that bad. I get nerve block injections and when we get one body part pain under control, another area of the body pain rears it’s ugly head and me and my husband spend our vacation time off from work getting these injections. When my doctor tells me exercise helps Fibromyalgia — well, honestly I don’t have the will, the fortitude, or the energy to add exercise on top of my 40 hours a week job that I drag myself through. And forget physical therapy! Again, no energy to travel back and forth and have to make up the time from work. I’m fortunate to work in an office and I don’t have to work fast. But still, it is so difficult and takes every ounce of sheer will to get through each day so that on Saturday and Sunday I have to rest just to get through the next week. I’m tired of not living a life, of doctors, of tests, of medicine. I’m tired of the 10-minute doctor visit dash. I’m not just ONE symptom, I’m MANY symptoms! I just want the pain to be controlled to low volume.

  11. Leah says:

    Living with FM sucks i have been doing it for many years however just got my confirmation on it from my doctor this week snd im 52!!! The reason could be that i have so many other things as well, migraines, cluster headaches, depression, anxiety, psorisis,tinnitus, lost my sense of taste snd smell, several allergies to medications and i had heart failure last August. The pain is horrible and i have not had a full nights sleep in i dont know how long. There are times when i think cutting off the offending parts would be better than the twitching and the pain but then i think about my family and realize im stronger than that. Needless to say work is not an option for me right now BUT even with all this going on and the FM leaving me exhasted and in pain i still try to move forward, stay positive and look for inspiration through other like minds.

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