Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Intermittent spinal cord compression and fibromyalgia 

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

There’s evidence (from 2008, see Holman et al.) that some people have quite a bit too much miscellaneous body pain (a.k.a. fibromyalgia) due to intermittent compression of the spinal cord. The compression fires up the sympathetic nervous system, but has no other immediate/obvious consequences. This is clinically subtle and tricky (and expensive) to diagnose unless you know exactly what to look for.

(Note that this is not a posture problem. You’re not going to get spinal cord compression in a healthy neck. No postural habit would plausibly do that. But there are a variety of pathologies and injuries that can result in spinal cord compression. Like arthritis, most straightforwardly.)

More study needed, of course, and I haven’t yet checked to see if there’s newer research on this topic — this is just a quick look at something that really grabbed my attention. Because, if true, this would explain a lot. And illuminating sneaky mechanisms of pain is exactly what we hope will characterise the next few decades of pain science: that we will finally start reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit, and look where the light is not good, and start to figure out why pain treatment has generally been such a difficult medical challenge.

I’ll be following up on this. Hat tip to Brian James for pointing this one out to me.

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