When you're trying to understand how pain works in someone with fibromyalgia, it can help to step away from all the medical jargon and compare it to something most of us are all ready familiar with. To me, it really helps to think about a computer network. (Don't worry - you don't have to understand a lot about computers to get this!)
Computer Network Malfunction
Picture the computer network at a large company, with a bunch of computers all connected to a server, and an IT department full of guys who keep it all running.
Problem #1: Now imagine there's a glitch in the system and things just aren't running right. The computers start popping up with erroneous warning messages, so everyone starts emailing IT about them.
Problem #2: The glitch causes all of those emails to be sent in triplicate.
Problem #3: The IT department is woefully under staffed today, with 2 guys present instead of the usual 6. They were already working hard to keep the system running when suddenly they were swamped with emails and there's no way they can keep up on them. Now the email system is on the verge of crashing because of the sudden spike.
You can imagine the chaos and confusion that would result, as well as the drop in everyone's ability to actually get their jobs done.
Nervous System Malfunction
Now let's look at how this applies to what's going on in your body.
The computer network is your nervous system. The server is your brain, and the computers represent cells. The IT guys? They're playing the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps your brain process pain signals.
In Problem #1: The cells inaccurately interpret different kinds of stimuli as pain (erroneous warning messages.)
In Problem #2: They send pain signals to your brain (emails,) but because they have high levels of an enzyme called substance P, they send up to triple the number of signals they should send.
In Problem #3: Your brain is working hard to keep your body running, when suddenly it's bombarded by pain signals emails. It doesn't have enough serotonin to process the messages that are coming in, and the pain distracts resources from other areas.
Just as in a company, this dysfunction causes myriad problems in your body and your life and makes it hard for you to function.
The Tip of the Iceberg
This is really only a portion of what's going on - and going wrong - in your pain-response system. Fibromyalgia pain is extremely complicated, and decades of research are just beginning to reveal the full picture.
To understand our pain better, see:
- 7 Types of Fibromyalgia Pain
- New: Pain Inhibition in Fibromyalgia
- The Brain & Evidence of Fibromyalgia Pain