Understanding Fibromyalgia Tender Points
I know I’m not the only fibromyalgia patient who didn’t have a clear and direct path from symptom to diagnosis. It’s common that sufferers go through multiple tests and scans before the medical professional settles on fibromyalgia — often by process of elimination.
However, the one thing that both the medical community and the patients seemed to agree on is that a rough diagnosis could be made using the tender point test.
It is said that one of the main characteristics of fibromyalgia is all over body pain, and so the 18 tender points were created. The term referred to 18 points across the body that hurt when pressed and — for a long time — you were expected to experience pain in at least 11 of the 18 tender points to be grouped as a fibromyalgia patient.
But is that really how we describe our pain? And why 11 —isn’t nine or 10 enough?
More research and new findings in the area of chronic pain now shows that many clinicians are dismissing the tender points in favor of the list of common symptoms. It makes sense because irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety and fibromyalgia numbness are common symptoms, but they wouldn’t show up on a tender point chart.
However, I can’t help but think whether there is something a bit reassuring about the tender point test. Somehow the tick-box approach feels more scientific; yes or no, it hurts or it doesn’t, you have it or you don’t. Obviously we know it’s not that simple, but we all kind of wish it was.
So what are the tender points and are they still a good way of measuring your level of fibromyalgia?
What Are the Tender Points?
The 18 tender points are located all over your body in pairs of nine key areas.
- Back of the neck on both sides where the skull meets the spine
- Front of the neck on both sides above the collarbone
- Both elbows
- Both hips
- Both buttocks with pain into the thighs
- Lower back with pain on both sides above the buttocks
- Both knees
- Upper back on both sides with pain near to the shoulder blades
- Both shoulders with pain across into the neck
- Both sides of the chest near the sternum, with pain often into the ribs
How many of the 18 tender points are areas that you experience pain?
How Can We Improve the Tender Points?
We know fibromyalgia is more than just tender points, but when I see it listed down like this in black and white I can’t quite believe that so many of us have pain in this many areas, and yet this is just half of the condition.
As a patient, I really appreciate a medical professional who treats my condition holistically. I like my health care provider to look at me as a whole person and see what they can do to help improve my quality of life.
However, there is also the chance to break down the symptoms into smaller chunks, like the 18 tender points, and look at ways to ease the amount of pain.
There are specific ways to treat your back pain and chest pain, and the pain in your joints can be eased by heat, massage and baths.
Although the tender point test isn’t going to save fibromyalgia patients, focusing on each pair of tender points allows you to treat each individual part of the body, which in turn can reduce your overall pain.