Brief History of Fibromyalgia

500 BC Biblical times with the life of Job reference Job 7:3-4, which states, “so I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on, and I toss till dawn.” They also reference Job 30:16-17, which states, “And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.”

410 BC Hippocrates (430-380 BC) described the “Rheuma Theory” as a mechanism of pain where the brain sends excessive liquid to the lower limb resulting in increasing pain. Rheuma means fluid in Greek.

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 in Edinburgh described tender points.

1829 Fat and Blood: Treatment of Different Forms of Neurasthenia and Hysteria Silas Weir Mitchell, M.D., an American physician who discussed the combining physiological and psychological problems. Dr. Mitchell use the term “Neurasthenia” as a term that was first used at least as early as 1829 to label a mechanical weakness of the actual nerves.

1850s Florence Nightingale, social reformer, statistician and founder of nursing, served as an English army nurse during the Crimean War. She became ill during the war with Fibromyalgia-like symptoms never recovering. Bedridden the rest of her life with pain and fatigue, she died in 1910.

1869 As a psychopathological term, Neurasthenia was used later by Beard in 1869 to denote a condition with symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, headache, neuralgia and depressed mood.

1870 William James, an American philosopher and psychologist also trained as a physician suffered from a Neurasthenia which was chronic. Americans were said to be particularly prone to Neurasthenia, resulting in the nickname “Americanitis” which as popularized by William James.

1880 A psychiatrist in the United States wrote about a group of symptoms including widespread pain, fatigue and psychological problems referencing Neurasthenia and believed it to be the result of stress.

1881 The clinical and diagnostic profile for nervous exhaustion (Neurasthenia) was first described in 1881 by George Miller Beard, M.D., an early neurologist and graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York. Beard based his ideas on a theory of “nervous energy,” that is, the health and capability of the nervous system. With the energy was depleted or abused, the individual developed debilitating nervous exhaustion. Beard’s best known books were American Nervousness, With Its Causes and Consequences (1880) and Practical Treatise on Nervous Exhaustion (1884).

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.

1994 Research showed an elevated cerebrospinal fluid levels of Substance P in patients with the Fibromyalgia syndrome (IJ Russell, MD Orr, B Littman, GA Vipraio)

1999 Introduction by Dr. Michael J. Rosner that there may be a overlap between Fibromyalgia and Chiari malformation/cervical stenosis. This was followed up in 2000 by Dr. Rosner and others including Robert Bennett, M.D.

2007 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Lyrica for the treatment of Fibromyalgia. This was the first drug ever to receive FDA approval for Fibromyalgia. Later, Cymbalta and Savella were FDA approval for the treatment of FM.

2011 Research was completed by Korean physicians showing that women with Fibromyalgia have lower levels of calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese in hair mineral analysis. (Ministry of Knowledge and Economy and Economy Frontier R&D Program in Korea), J Korean Med Sci. 2011 October; 26(10): 1253–1257

Prepared by Rory Fleming Richardson, Ph.D., ABMP


One thought on “Brief History of Fibromyalgia

  1. Great blog! When I first learned of the Rheumatologist’s 1990 paper in 1991 and performing a few exams using their criteria it quickly became obvious to me that the fibromyalgia syndrome was of intervertebral disc origin. To date I know of no one carrying out research on this problem looking at the intervertebral disc. My work to date is in the WordPress blog below.

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