Happy FibroMAGIC Awareness Day

May 12th was chosen as International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day as it is the birthday of Florence Nightingale. She was believed to have suffered from Fibromyalgia.

Florence Nightingale, an English army nurse during the Crimean War (1854-1856), was a pioneer in the International Red Cross Movement. Nightingale became ill while working on the front lines and never really recovered. She was virtually bedridden much of the rest of her life with pain and fatigue resembling fibromyalgia until her death in 1910.

Although the term FIBROMYALGIA was not coined until 1976, throughout history people have reported illnesses with strikingly similar symptoms. These reports can be found as far back as Old Testament Biblical times:

I, too, have been assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery. When I go to bed, I think, `When will it be morning?’ But the night drags on, and I toss till dawn…And now my heart is broken. Depression haunts my days. My weary nights are filled with pain as though something were relentlessly gnawing at my bones. (Job 7:3-4; 30:16-17 – NLT)

This mysterious illness has been studied since the 1800’s and has been identified by a variety of names, including hysterical paroxysm, muscular rheumatism and fibrositis. The term fibromyalgia was first coined in 1976 in an effort to describe its primary symptom. The term “fibromyalgia” derives from new Latin, fibro-, meaning “fibrous tissues”, Greek myo-, “muscle”, and Greek algos-, “pain”; thus the term literally means “muscle and connective tissue pain”


  • 1600s – Fibromyalgia-like symptoms were first given a name: muscular rheumatism.
  • 1816 – Dr. William Balfour, surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, gave the first full description of fibromyalgia.
  • 1824 – Dr. Balfour described tender points.
  • 1904 – Sir William Gowers coined the term fibrositis (literally meaning inflammation of fibers) to denote the tender points found in patients with muscular rheumatism.
  • 1972 – Dr. Hugh Smythe laid the foundation for the modern definition of fibromyalgia by describing widespread pain and tender points.
  • 1975 – The first sleep electroencephalogram study identifying the sleep disturbances that accompany fibromyalgia was performed.
  • 1976 – Because no evidence of inflammation could be found, physicians changed the name from fibrositis to fibromyalgia (meaning pain in muscles and tissues).
  • 1981 – The first controlled clinical study with validation of known symptoms and tender points was published.
  • 1987 – The American Medical Association  recognized fibromyalgia as a real physical condition.
  • 1990 – The American College of Rheumatology developed diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia to be used for research purposes.  The criteria soon began to be used by clinicians as a tool to help them diagnose patients.
  • 1990s – The concept of neurohormonal mechanisms with central sensitization was developed.
  • 2007 – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Lyrica for the treatment of fibromyalgia.  This was the first drug ever to receive FDA approval for fibromyalgia.  (Since then, two additional medications – Cymbalta and Savella – have also received FDA approval for the treatment of FM.)

Over the years there have been a multitude of theories as to what fibromyalgia is and what causes it. As the term fibromyalgia implies, it was logically thought to be a muscle disease, since muscle pain seemed to be the primary symptom. However, research studies could find nothing wrong with the muscles. For a while, it was theorised that it might be an autoimmune disorder, but once again research revealed no disturbance of the immune system.

Sadly, as often happens when medical science cannot identify an illness using standard technology of the day, for most of the past 200 years fibromyalgia was thought to be a psychiatric or psychosomatic disorder. Even today, there are a few (many?) medical professionals who insist on hanging on to this theory.

Fortunately, the 21st century has brought new laboratory tests and brain-imaging technology that has not only proven fibromyalgia to be a real physical disorder, but has also shown that it is caused by a malfunction of the central nervous system. As a result of these discoveries, new, more effective treatments are on the horizon (Bring it on!)

Hopefully, one day the history of fibromyalgia will be just that –– past history.

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  4. As many times as I have read the book of Job, I never noticed how the referenced passage sounds like fibro! Great post!

  5. My Daughter has this condition, but despite this remains positive and hopes to graduate this year as a nurse. I am so very proud of her because I know at times what real pain she must be in . I also hope this will encourage other people in this situation to try and achieve your goals no matter what hurdels you must face.

  6. Fascinating blog post! Thank you!

  7. Reblogged this on Pain in the Trek and commented:
    Here’s a great blog post on the history of fibromyalgia that I can’t help but re-blog. I never knew the Florence Nightingale connection to Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Enjoy!

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