Common Joint Problems, Solved

It's never too early to protect your knees, shoulders and other connective parts from daily wear and tear. Learn how to head off problems and heal the aches you may already have.

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Problem #5: Fibromyalgia

The lowdown. Fibromyalgia—which affects about 10 million people in the United States, as many as 90 percent of whom are women—is a disorder that causes "tender points" on body parts such as your back, arms, shoulders and legs. While it's a disorder of the soft tissue, it often presents itself as joint pain. "We're not sure why it's so much more prevalent in women—one thought is that hormones like estrogen make some women's brains more susceptible to sensations of pain," says Abby Abelson, MD, chair of the department of rheumatic and immunologic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic.

What it feels like. Constant fatigue coupled with muscle aches, twitching or burning that may feel like the flu. Sleep problems are common, too.

Rx. If your doctor suspects that it's fibromyalgia, she'll examine you and may run a bunch of blood tests. "It's usually a diagnosis of exclusion, after ruling out other conditions, like hypothyroidism," Dr. Abelson says. If you've had at least seven tender points for at least three months, along with other symptoms such as unexplainable tiredness, it's most likely fibromyalgia. Three drugs—duloxetine, pregabalin and milnacipran—have been FDA-approved to treat the disorder, but that's not your only recourse. Regular exercise (20 minutes to an hour at least twice a week) and/or talking to a therapist on the phone once a week seems to reduce pain, notes a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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Hallie Levine Sklar
Last Updated: June 11, 2013

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