Adverse childhood events (ACEs) and fibromyalgia

Research shows that 14 adverse childhood events occurred more frequently in people with fibromyalgia than a control group. This population has heightened sensitivity to pain, more additional symptoms of other diseases, and a greater consumption of analgesics. Adaptive techniques, cognitive behavior therapy, and association with supportive social circles can improve the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms.

Are you an inspiring akoya pearl, a brilliant diamond, or a fine wine? Known for their character, each overcame nature’s adversity. What about ACEs in fibromyalgia?

Pearls are formed as an oyster protects itself from irritating grains of sand. Diamonds are formed under crushing pressure and intense heat. The best grapes come from deep mountain slopes with rocky soil that stresses the roots.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are fairly common in the United States, with 46 percent of the population witnessing a parent’s divorce, living with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem, sexual abuse, verbal battering, etc., according to a recent report from Child Trends.

ACEs commonly occur for all, but trauma is different for each person. Genetics, biology, and temperament play a part in how people respond to these cirumstances. The degree to which a person overcomes the negative impact of ACEs is affected by how they narrate their life. That story can sound like “nothing good happens to me” or “life has its ups and downs.”

The National Institute of Medicine report “Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research” confirmed the relationship between ACEs and chronic pain conditions in adulthood.

In a key European study, 14 specific ACEs were found to occur almost twice as frequently in FM patients than the control group, leading to the finding that critical life events influence FM symptoms exhibited by patients. Traumatized FM patients demonstrate a heightened sensitivity to pain, more additional symptoms of other diseases, and a greater consumption of analgesics. Of interest, the group noted that compared to the control group, parents of FM patients were not able to express affection through physical care three times more frequently, and physical violence between the parents was reported roughly seven times more frequently.

It’s natural to draw on life experience to make sense of the world. But what if those experiences are maladaptive and perpetuate the cycle of chronic pain conditions? Cognitive behavior therapy has shown sustained improvements in pain, coping strategies, and overall physical function for fibromyalgia, and particularly with juvenile fibromyalgia.

In speaking about his ACEs with Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry commented that “what you feed will grow in your life, and what you don’t will starve.” Perry credits Winfrey for inspiring him to start writing down all of the things that happened to him as a way to start untying the holds ACEs in his life had on him. A simple journal or more sophisticated online apps work to start writing about ACEs.

People with FM are not alone in their challenges and experiences. Reaching out and finding others who relate, understand, and inspire are critical to living well with fibromyalgia.

Come celebrate victories and find reliable information and local resources at Together Walks on May 12th, Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Be inspired by others and share your thoughts to inspire others. Together we make a difference!

What is fibromyalgia?

Who is affected?

This invisible, life-altering condition causes 2-4% of women, men and children of all backgrounds worldwide to suffer.  (That’s 10 million Americans alone.)  The disorder can strike suddenly or occur as a gradual increase in symptoms, indicating changes in the central nervous system (neuroplasticity).  Sensory information (such as light, sound, and touch) becomes amplified by the central nervous system, causing the brain to respond with increasing pain and symptoms.  FM severity often increases over time and may become disabling.

FM takes its toll on once healthy individuals, especially between ages 20-60.  Escalating stress and fear of what might lie ahead if symptoms worsen can contribute to anxiety and depression.  There are no cures for fibromyalgia; however, as with any illness, some symptoms can be controlled with carefully improved lifestyle changes.

FM is a physical disorder, not a psychological condition. The most common constellation of FM symptoms (widespread chronic muscle pain, sleeplessness, relentless fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and a host of other overlapping conditions like TMJD, IBS, migraine, interstitial cystitis, metabolic syndrome, endometriosis, and vulvodynia) can wax and wane over time.

For more information, click here go to and for survey results of symptoms other than pain, click here.