Altered Body Awareness May Contribute to Pain Sensitivity in Fibromyalgia, Study Suggests

Altered Body Awareness May Contribute to Pain Sensitivity in Fibromyalgia, Study Suggests

Women with fibromyalgia often have less self-esteem and a distorted perception of their own bodies. This may impair their capacity to process sensory stimuli and contribute to the sensation of chronic pain, according to researchers from Spain.

This finding was reported in a small study titled, “Embodied pain in fibromyalgia: Disturbed somatorepresentations and increased plasticity of the body schema,” published in the journal Plos One.

The sensation of pain is controlled by different elements. Cognitive factors such as attention, anticipation, emotion, and memory of previous pain can affect the way a person perceives pain.

Body image and body perception can also contribute to feelings of exacerbated or diminished pain sensitivity. Increasing evidence has suggested an association between a patient’s chronic pain and a distorted image of their body.

To better understand whether body awareness is associated with pain sensation, researchers from the University of the Basque Country in northern Spain evaluated 14 women with fibromyalgia and 13 healthy volunteers.

Several fundamental aspects of body awareness were analyzed, including plasticity of the body response and movement, body image, and awareness of normal body activity.

Women with fibromyalgia were found to have lower self-esteem than their healthy counterparts, reporting less satisfaction with their bodies. The patients had lower scores for all items when measured by the Body Esteem Scale (BES). Regions of the body with lower scores were found to be those where patients felt the most pain.

Results of the Body Perception Questionnaire (BPQ) revealed that fibromyalgia patients had significantly higher scores for body awareness, stress response, autonomic nervous system reactivity, and stress style. The intensity of ongoing pain was found to be strongly correlated with patients’ interoceptive awareness — the ability to perceive the body’s normal functions.

The researchers believe these results “suggest a disturbed embodiment in fibromyalgia, characterized by instability of the body schema, negatively biased cognitions regarding one’s own body, and increased vigilance to internal bodily cues.”

It is not clear if altered body awareness and perceptions are a cause or a consequence of fibromyalgia.

Still, they can be interpreted as a response to the “inability to adequately” read incoming sensory inputs and “update the biased off-line representations” of the body and pain “stored as long-term memory,” the researchers wrote.

5 comments

  1. lee says:

    As a person who developed FM later in life and had a healthy self-esteem and positive body image, I’d say the results are most likely related to study subjects’ feelings and perceptions of their body post FM and the pain and autonomic dysfunction that are the hallmark of the illness. A body with FM is not much fun to inhabit, so perhaps we divorce ourselves from it a bit (not necessarily a bad thing) and feel less appreciative of our less useful bodies. I’d be very careful about drawing any cause and effect conclusions from this study. Seems pretty murky to me.

  2. Dr Reagan says:

    first the sample size is too small. I would like to know the g power and cronbach alpha for this scale which would give the validity and reliability. as a prof who conducted a quantitative study for my dissertation, I would question the validity. I took the scale and as a person who developed fibromyalgia over four years ago, I would say that fibromyalgia is in the independent variable or the causation predictor variable and the body image is the results or dependent variable. I scored high on sexual attractiveness because despite fibromyalgia and arthritis, I still dress and look sexy. however, i would have scored much higher before I became sick. on weight control I scored a little lower because I could afford to lose 20 pounds. I enjoy eating but I exercise three times a day and do yoga and tai chi and dance with friends on weekends. on physical coordination I scored horribly because I was born with CP and neurological impairments but the arthritis and fibromyalgia made that even worse. I would like to see someone conduct an analysis of variance and compare means of males and females with and without fibromyalgia and coompare the reults. Dr Réagan

  3. Kath says:

    Absolute rubbish! I have had Fibromyalgia for 13 years, and I am quite happy with my body image. My FM is nothing to do with focussing too much on the pain, as I have many things in my life that I am focussed on, and get on with, until the pain defeats me.

  4. peggy says:

    What a load of rubbish. Most of my pain has been in my neck and back of head, not an area that a person would generally be ‘body dismorphic’ about; and I happen to love my neck, back of my head and my entire body, self, and being. What annoys me about fibro research is the angle they come at it in the first place. Do breast cancer sufferers get studied for personality and body image disorders. No. This is exactly why I stopped read these kind of articles and research papers.

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