Is Your Fibromyalgia Primary or Secondary?

Is your fibromyalgia primary or secondary? It's a fact that tends to be frequently overlooked or glossed over. Fibromyalgia (FMS) can be either primary, also known as idiopathic fibromyalgia, or secondary. In primary fibromyalgia, the causes are not known, whereas in secondary fibromyalgia, we know (or at least have a pretty good idea) why it developed. Primary fibromyalgia is the more common form.

An older man rubbing his sore shoulder
Terry Vine / Getty Images 


Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. While we still don't know exactly what's going on in the body that leads to fibromyalgia, we do know that chronic pain can cause changes in the brain and central nervous system that lead to central sensitization—essentially making the body overreact to pain and other stimuli (noise, smell, bright lights, etc.). That's why it's believed people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), and other chronic pain conditions frequently develop FMS.

Causes of Secondary Fibromyalgia

Secondary fibromyalgia has similar symptoms as primary fibromyalgia. Possible causes of secondary fibromyalgia include the following.

  • Physical injury: For example, secondary fibromyalgia sometimes develops in people who have had neck injuries.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis: Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of chronic inflammation of the spine and the sacroiliac joints located in the low back where the sacrum meets the iliac bones.
  • Surgery: Trauma, particularly in the upper spinal region, may trigger the development of fibromyalgia.
  • Lyme disease
  • Hepatitis C
  • Endometriosis


In general, medication and self-care are used to treat both kinds of fibromyalgia. The emphasis is on minimizing symptoms and improving general health. No one treatment works for all symptoms.

Medications can help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia and improve sleep. Common medications include those below.

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others) may be helpful.
  • Antidepressants: Duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella) may help with pain and fatigue.
  • Anti-seizure drugs: Medications designed to treat epilepsy are often useful in reducing certain types of pain. Gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise) is sometimes helpful, while pregabalin (Lyrica) was the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat fibromyalgia.

Primary vs. Secondary Treatments

It's important to make the distinction between primary and secondary when we talk about treatments. For example, some people have success with acupuncture in treating their fibromyalgia. It could be because there is some evidence acupuncture is successful for a related condition, myofascial pain syndrome (MPS, or CMP for chronic myofascial pain). It is currently impossible to say for sure whether acupuncture relieves fibromyalgia symptoms directly (some studies suggest it can) or whether relieving the MPS symptoms had a secondary effect of calming fibromyalgia symptoms.


The pain and lack of sleep associated with fibromyalgia can interfere with the ability to function at home or on the job. The frustration of dealing with an often-misunderstood condition also can result in depression and anxiety.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Health Service. Fibromyalgia.

  2. Jahan F, Nanji K, Qidwai W, Qasim R. Fibromyalgia syndrome: an overview of pathophysiology, diagnosis and management. Oman Med J. 2012;27(3):192-5. doi:10.5001/omj.2012.44

  3. Clauw DJ. Fibromyalgia: a clinical review. JAMA. 2014;311(15):1547-55. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.3266

  4. Deare JC, Zheng Z, Xue CC, et al. Acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(5):CD007070. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007070.pub2

Additional Reading

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.