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Fibromyalgia Study Suggests Muscles Are ‘Wired and Tired’

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Reprinted with the kind permission of Cort Johnson.

A Workout Without Working (Much): Fibromyalgia Study Suggests Muscles Are ‘Wired and Tired’ As Well: Implications for ME/CFS

A Workout Without Working (Much)

Feel like you just ran a mile after walking a block? Do your muscles feel tight and contracted? How’s your flexibility and coordination? If I’m reading this right this fibromyalgia study might be able to help explain why these problems are occurring.

We recently saw a study which suggested that something as simple as mental stress tests (math test) or eating or other sympathetic nervous system activators can activate the back muscles of people with fibromyalgia. That study suggested FM patients’ muscles could be in state of almost continual activation.

Now we look at the muscles of people with fibromyalgia under load; that is. when they’re being exercised….and find that much the same thing is occurring – only magnified.

The Study

In this study people with fibromyalgia and healthy controls carried weights in their hand and then flexed their arms back and forth for 3-5 minutes while researchers measured the electrical activity used in their biceps.


Endurance – Normal; Everything else  – Abbey- normal.

The study found that endurance in this short muscle test was normal but virtually every other test result was abnormal in the FM patients.

Wired and Tired Muscles as Well…

One might have thought that strength and frequency of the electrical signals would have been reduced in these exertion-challenged FM patients but as so often happens, the opposite was true; the electrical signals in their muscles were, oddly enough, going bananas, putting them were into a hyper-active state.

Electrical signals trigger the muscle contractions we use to produce force but those signals should diminish in between the muscle contractions. They did in the healthy controls but not in the FM patients whose muscles were being constantly prodded to contract.

This didn’t mean they were supermen or women in disguise; far from it – the inability to turn their muscle activity off and allow them to rest suggested their muscles were chronically tensed, not strong. (Shades of the wired but tired problem in ME/CFS).

Several things can cause this kind of unremitting electrical activity but in this case it appeared that alterations in the ‘muscle fiber membrane’ or ‘ sarcolemma’ were responsible. Unusual in cellular membranes which generally prefer to stay on the surface of the cell, the sarcolemma dives deep into the big muscle fiber cells where it transfers electric signals that tells them to contract. The muscle fiber membrane, then, plays a key role in energy production.

Muscle ‘Arrythmias’ Anyone?

The authors believe this continued state of activation left the muscles in a state of something called ‘afterdepolarization’. Depolarization simply refers to a change in the electrical status of a membrane. If I have this right, the membrane should switch from positive to negative regularly – allowing electrical currents (ions) to contract, relax, contract, relax, etc. the muscles. In a state of afterdepolarization a state of confusion reigns, interrupting that regular pattern of ‘depolarization,’ leaving the membranes in a twitchy, unsettled state. In the heart muscle, afterdepolarization can cause tachycardia or arrythmias.

It just so happens that afterdepolarization causes the muscle membrane to send the ‘contract’ message more easily.  What’s causing this state of affairs? The authors didn’t say but depolarization is a function of ion channel (Ca, K, Na, CL) activity and the autonomic nervous system may be involved as well.

Because the tests were done in muscle areas that did not have tender points they believed this pattern applies body-wide.


With your muscles in a continually contracted state every time you put them under load, it may be that you are running a marathon for every mile you walk. This study suggests that exercise may throw the muscles of people with FM into a state of confusion in which muscle rest breaks disappear leaving the muscles chronically activated (and in an arrythmic state?). Given the worsened exertional problems in ME/CFS, it’s possible the same or worse applies in that disorder.

The ongoing sympathetic nervous system activation, the possibly increased glutamate activity, the NK cell burnout, the inability to turn off attention to innocuous stimuli and now the ongoing electrical activity/muscle contraction in FM all suggest chronically activated systems play a role in this disorder.

Source: Health Rising, April 14, 2013. By Cort Johnson.

Illustration: By Julien Tromeur.

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2 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia Study Suggests Muscles Are ‘Wired and Tired’”

  1. IanH says:

    We have measured the calf length of people with FM (and ME/CFS) and compared them to the calf length of matched controls. (matched for length of leg, gender, body weight).

    People with FM had calves 15% shorter and this was statistically significant (<0.01). The calves of FM patients had greater girth by 12% but this was not significant (<0.06).

    This agrees with the above study. Muscles which are receiving a constant barrage of neurological signals will be semi-contracted.

    We tried the same with biceps but it didn’t show any difference. This is perhaps because the leg muscles are constantly being used. It was also the legs in these people which have more serious protracted cramps.

  2. expothead says:

    This explains why I wake up feeling so well rested when I take Gabapentin (Neurontin) at bedtime. Gabapentin is used primarily to treat seizures, neuropathic pain, and as an anticonvulsant. It’s nice to finely read a good explanation or what is going on with my muscles.

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