How did President John F. Kennedy advance research on chronic pain?

All of our presidents have a story to tell, and this snapshot tells how one impacted recognition of chronic pain.

We say “thank you” to President John F. Kennedy on this Presidents Day for inspiring us to keep trying when it seems impossible.  Kennedy was our 35th president and the youngest ever elected.  Presidents Day is an American holiday observed on the third Monday in February annually to commemorate all U.S. presidents though it originally celebrated George Washington’s birthday during his presidency. 

According to Men’s Health, the image Kennedy conveyed was of a “young, vigorous man.” However, the lively man portrayed to the public had another part of his life that wasn’t as visible. J.F.K. suffered from a series of medical issues, the worst being his chronic lower back pain.

One of the doctors who had a hand in helping this president was Janet Graeme Travell.

An American physician and a medical researcher, Dr. Travell studied and practiced in many different places including Wellesley College, Cornell University Medical College, New York Hospital, Seaview Hospital, and Beth Israel Hospital. Travell was a leading pioneer in the study of referred pain and the discovery of trigger points in musculoskeletal pain. Her many different techniques for the treatment of myofascial pain led to her becoming the first female physician to Senator John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was elected for president, she was then called to be his personal doctor.

While at the White House, she became an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at George Washington University. After leaving the White House, she continued to teach, attend conferences, and write articles. Travells’ research and over 100 scientific articles contributed to furthering the concept of  myofascial pain syndrome (MSP) secondary to trigger points and the recognition of symptoms like muscle pain, spasms, and tenderness.

The cause of MSP is unknown but is a chronic condition that affects the fascia (connective tissue that covers the muscles).  Pain can be referred to the soft tissues, and inflammation is often present.

Trigger points (TPs) or “knots” in the muscle are sensitive spots in soft tissue which can lead to the chronic condition of MSP. Optimal treatment of MPS is a multi-faceted approach including TP injections, stretching of fascia, stress reduction, physical therapy, sleep improvement, and medications.  MSP is generally localized muscle pain affecting one side of the body or one side more than the other.  The symptoms often mimic fibromyalgia, where muscle and soft tissue pain is diffuse and symmetric, involving both sides of the body.

Travell’s work advanced research for fibromyalgia and chronic pain, but it has it should have. We want to change that. Together Walks is a way to support this research. The money raised will go to the further research for fibromyalgia and chronic pain. We hope you will take the opportunity to 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.