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REJOICE, fibromyalgia sufferers! Your nightmare is over!

 •  • by Paul Ingraham

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 PainScience.com: a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

This post started out on Facebook, and had to be deleted. I shared a probably-too-good-to-be-true news item about fibromyalgia to criticize it and make fun of it. I should know better. The result was predictable: people started sharing it uncritically, passing it on without my context, or any similar context of their own, or even a hint of reserving judgement. In short, I quickly created a bunch of the same hype that I was trying to suppress. Ugh. Oops. So I took it down.

Here’s the article I was criticizing: “Fibromyalgia Mystery Finally Solved!” The writer is just a teensy bit over-heated about this science news. Such unbridled optimism is kind of adorable:

The announcement … undoubtedly has patients all over the world rejoicing that the mystery of Fibromyalgia has finally been solved.

Oh, undoubtedly!

There’s a problem with this kind of “mission: accomplished!” medical science reporting that usually isn’t mentioned: the lack of empathy for the patient. Most chronic pain patients feel like they’ve been jerked around by experts for ages, told about a zillion conflicting things. The last thing they want is more big hopes: if they buy into it, if they “rejoice,” they risk dire disappointment and pointless distraction.

Hope is always a double-edged sword in chronic pain. Allegedly good news is always uncomfortably awkward, like being given a lovely pie that might be full of berries and sugar … or more pain.

I don’t know if I’ll write about this research yet. Maybe.+ It’s a year old. This isn’t fresh. I went looking for some analysis of this study, but so far I haven’t seen anything but breathlessly optimistic news based on a press release from the company that paid for the research. That company’s motives are unclear to me: not necessarily suspect, but certainly murky. Whatever I write, it won’t contain the words “rejoice” or “solved” or “total cure.”

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