You sometimes hear fibromyalgia referred to as a “fad diagnosis” or “new disease,” but the truth is that fibromyalgia is far from new. It has centuries of history, with multiple name changes and discarded theories along the way.
While it hasn’t always been accepted by the medical community, and today its acceptance isn’t universal, fibromyalgia has come a long way and current research continues to offer proof that it’s a very real physiological illness.
The most-often cited historical account of fibromyalgia comes from a 2004 paper by researchers Fatma Inanici and Muhammad B. Yunus. This history was compiled from their work as well as new information from the past decade. (All sources are cited at the end of the article.)
Back to the Beginning – 1592-1900
Early on, doctors didn’t have separate definitions for all the pain conditions we recognize today. Descriptions and terminology started out broad and gradually were narrowed down.
In 1592, French physician Guillaume de Baillou introduced the term “rheumatism ” to describe musculoskeletal pain that didn’t originate from injury. This was a broad term that would have included fibromyalgia as well as arthritis and many other illnesses. Eventually, doctors began to use “muscular rheumatism” for painful conditions that, like fibromyalgia, didn’t cause deformity.
Two-hundred years later, definitions still were rather vague.
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However, in 1815, Scottish surgeon William Balfour noted nodules on connective tissues and theorized that inflammation could be behind both the nodules and pain. He was also the first to describe tender points (which would later be used to diagnose fibromyalgia.)
A few decades later, French doctor Francios Valleix used the term “neuralgia” to describe what he believed was referred pain from tender points traveling along the nerves.