Our fibromyalgia research highlights

10 May 2024

Right now, between 1.7 to 2.8 million people live with fibromyalgia. This is a long-term condition that causes pain and tenderness all over your body.

Fibromyalgia is a condition that’s often misunderstood – and it can be challenging to diagnose and treat.

But together we could change that.

Discover how your support is powering groundbreaking fibromyalgia research today.

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What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a long-term pain condition with symptoms including:

  • Long-term and widespread pain.
  • Tiredness (fatigue) and generally feeling like you have no energy.
  • Sleeping badly and waking up feeling unrested.
  • Aching and stiffness.

“The other thing with fibro is the fibro fog. I’ll forget what I’m doing sometimes.”

Josephine, 76, who lives with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis

We’re not entirely sure what causes fibromyalgia. But researchers think it isn't caused by problems with your muscles, bones, or joints.

Instead, researchers increasingly believe fibromyalgia might be caused by a problem in your central nervous system (CNS).

Your central nervous system is like the body’s command centre and it’s made up of two main parts: your brain and spinal cord.

It's responsible for sending and receiving messages that control everything your body does. And it also helps us process pain.

Usually, when you experience pain, your nerves send signals to your brain, alerting you to potential harm. But, if you have fibromyalgia, the central nervous system may respond to the pain signals differently. This can mean heightening these pain signals, or feeling pain when other people might only feel uncomfortable.

This can lead to pain and discomfort, extreme tiredness (fatigue) and other symptoms linked with fibromyalgia.

Learn more about fibromyalgia


Our fibromyalgia research

Right now, our researchers are working tirelessly on new ways to diagnose, treat and manage fibromyalgia. Here are just a few of the incredible studies we’re funding:

Patient centred care for fibromyalgia (PACFIND)

Smiling nurse with curly hair standing in a hospitalDo you live with fibromyalgia? In an ideal world, how would you like to be diagnosed and treated?

This is exactly what Professor Gary Mc Farlane and his team of researchers at the University of Aberdeen, hope to find out.

In this latest study, called PACFIND, our researchers will talk to people like you living with fibromyalgia.

They’ll also look at healthcare records and speak with health and social care professionals.

What are the aims of the study?

Our researchers hope to better understand:

  • How people living with fibromyalgia currently use and experience healthcare services.
  • How healthcare services are currently organised.
  • How much care is available for patients living with fibromyalgia.

How will the findings benefit people living with fibromyalgia?

By the end of the study, our researchers hope to:

  • propose and test a new cost-effective way to care for people living with fibromyalgia.
  • estimate the benefits and costs of this new approach.
  • explore how new services could deliver high patient satisfaction.

Developing a diagnostic test for fibromyalgia

Did you know that fibromyalgia is common in people who live with other rheumatic conditions?

Rheumatic conditions affect the joints, muscles and connective tissues of the body. They include inflammatory arthritis conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other conditions like lupus and gout.

Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) have improved care of people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. But these drugs aren’t effective at treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Unfortunately, we still don’t fully understand the causes of fibromyalgia which makes developing new drugs difficult.

However, David Andersson and our team of researchers at King’s College London believe the answer could lie in our antibodies.

These are proteins that are produced by our immune system (the body’s natural defence system) when they detect harmful bacteria or viruses.

What are the aims of the study?

In the past, researchers suggested that certain antibodies might cause symptoms of fibromyalgia. So, they extracted these antibodies and injected them into mice, who later developed fibromyalgia symptoms.

Fast forward to today, and our researchers want to take a closer look at these antibodies.

They're exploring the role of these antibodies in people living with fibromyalgia, and other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

How will the findings benefit people living with fibromyalgia?

The researchers hope to understand whether these antibodies are important for the symptoms of fibromyalgia in people with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

We hope these findings will change how we view fibromyalgia and help us improve the diagnosis and treatment for people living with this condition.

Using virtual reality to understand how the body, brain and pain interact in fibromyalgia

Have you ever used Virtual Reality (VR)? This is a type of technology that usually uses a headset. It immerses us in a digital world that feels just like real-life.

Nowadays, virtual reality is mostly used for video games. But could it help us explore how we experience pain? Dr Jane Aspell and her team at Anglia Ruskin University are determined to find out more.

What are the aims of the study?

Young man using virtual reality (VR) headset and pointing to the air

Imagine you were immersed in a digital world and had a virtual body.

How would your brain understand signals from your senses? How would it process pain?

In this study, researchers want to use virtual reality to create a ‘body illusion’. This means they want people living with fibromyalgia to feel like a digital or virtual reality body is their own.

Using this, they’ll then explore:

  • How our brain understands signals from our senses.
  • How our brain understands pain signals.
  • How the brain sees our body.
  • Whether virtual reality sessions could offer relief from pain.

How will the findings benefit people living with fibromyalgia?

This research could help us understand how the brain understands pain signals and how this might be different in people living with fibromyalgia. This would help us better understand the causes of the condition.

Some studies also suggest that virtual reality can ease chronic pain. But we're not sure how long it lasts. So, this study will also explore whether virtual reality could reduce pain for people living with fibromyalgia.

If it does offer long-lasting relief, it could offer a new way to treat condition either at home or in hospitals.

Developing a new “brain training” treatment for fibromyalgia pain

If fibromyalgia is caused by problems with the central nervous system, could we ‘train’ our brains to better process pain? This idea is what sparked Dr Richard Brown’s study at the University of Manchester.

What are the aims of this study?

Our researchers hope to create and test a new treatment that could help ease this pain. It’s called perceptual training, or ‘Pe Tra’ for short.

Basically, it involves doing simple tasks on a computer, a bit like ‘brain training’. Our researchers believe this could help your nervous system better interpret pain signals.

How will the findings benefit people living with fibromyalgia?

Perceptual training (‘Pe Tra’) hopes to teach our central nervous system how to better process pain over time.

It's been developed after years of research, and researchers have worked closely with patients to make sure it addresses their needs.

For this trial, our researchers will first test the tool using healthy volunteers. Then they’ll test how effective it is in reducing pain in fibromyalgia patients. Finally, they’ll explore if Pe Tra should be studied in large clinical trials in the future.

Living with fibromyalgia: Louise’s story

In the future, we hope our research could help offer relief to people like Louise, 56, who lives with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

“For me, it’s the feeling of fogginess that affects me most,” she says. “Not being able to think clearly or not being able to remember the simplest of words.

“When fatigue hits, for me it’s most noticeable when I try to walk. I describe it as trying to wade through treacle. It feels like you want to power on, but your legs just won’t go.”

Living with fibromyalgia