According to research published in the June, 2002 issue of the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, the pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients is real. Researchers used functional MRE, or fMRI, which is a fast form of MRI to obtain images of the brain. This technology enabled the researchers to see the brain’s response to pain as it was happening.
The researchers found that mild pressure to produced pain in the fibromyalgia patients, while the control subjects were able to tolerate the same pressure with little pain. In the fibromyalgia patients, mild pressure produced response in the areas of the brain that process pain, according to the readings on the fMRI. The brains of the control subjects did not demonstrate this response until the pressure was doubled.
Though brain activity increased in many of the same areas in both patients and control subjects, there were striking differences too. The fibromyalgia patients who felt pain from mild pressure had increased activity in 12 areas of their brains. The people in the control group had activation in only two areas of the brain (and they reported no pain with this pressure). When the pressure was increased on the thumbs of the control group, so did their pain rating and the number of brain areas activated. But only eight of the areas were the same as those in fibromyalgia patients’ brains—fewer than the number of areas in the brain that were activated when the fibromyalgia patients experienced pain.