Difference Between Fibromyalgia and Arthritis

The key difference between fibromyalgia and arthritis is that arthritis is referred to inflammation of the joints space, which is the cavity around the bony joints facilitating movement between adjacent bony structures.  In contrast, fibromyalgia is referred to the muscular or musculoskeletal pain with stiffness and localized tenderness at specific points on the body.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis or inflammation usually occurs in relation to the synovial membrane which lines the joint cavity. However, later it can affect and may destroy other components of the joint such as articular cartilages covering the articular surfaces of adjacent bones. Inflammation of a joint cavity can be a result of many cases.

Septic Arthritis: Joint space in inflamed due to an infectious agent such as bacteria.

Inflammatory Arthritis: Joint space is inflamed by autoimmune attack against the joint structures, or the inflammation is induced by deposition of various external agents within the joint structures; for example, viral antigens, metabolic byproducts such as uric acid, etc.

Arthritis can be acute or chronic in its presentation. Arthritis can affect a single joint, which is called monoarthritis, or it can affect multiple joints, which is called polyarthritis. If not treated properly, the arthritis can lead to complete joint destruction and severe disability.

What is fibromyalgia?

The term “fibromyalgia” was derived from the New Latin ‘fibro-‘ meaning “fibrous tissues”, Greek myo- meaning “muscle”, and Greek algos meaning “pain”; thus, the term literally means “muscle and connective tissue pain”. It is characterized by chronic widespread pain and a heightened and painful response to pressure. Symptoms other than pain may occur, leading to the use of the term fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Other symptoms include feeling tired to a degree that normal activities are affected, sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness.

Fibromyalgia is described as a “central sensitization syndrome” caused by biological abnormalities in the nervous system which act to produce pain and cognitive impairments as well as psychological problems.

What is the difference between Fibromyalgia and Arthritis?

Gender Distribution

Arthritis: Arthritis does not have a significant difference in gender distribution.

Fibromyalgia: In contrast, fibromyalgia commonly affect females than males.


Arthritis: Arthritis predominantly has an inflammatory component.

Fibromyalgia: The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. However, several hypotheses have been developed including “central sensitization”. This theory proposes that people with fibromyalgia have a lower threshold for pain because of increased reactivity of pain-sensitive nerve cells in the spinal cord or brain.

Signs and Symptoms

Arthritis: Arthritis will present with pain, swelling, redness, warmth and restriction of movements of the joint.

Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia does not present above features except pain and it is characterized by tender points in relation to fibro-muscular tissues when external pressure is applied. It can also be associated with increased fatigability and symptoms of depression.


Arthritis: Arthritis can be treated with medicinal drugs depending on the cause.

Fibromyalgia: As with many other medically unexplained syndromes, there is no universally accepted treatment or cure for fibromyalgia, and treatment typically consists of symptom management.


Arthritis: Arthritis has a variable prognosis depending on the cause and the treatment given.

Fibromyalgia: Although in itself neither degenerative nor fatal, the chronic pain of fibromyalgia is pervasive and persistent. Most people with fibromyalgia report that their symptoms do not improve over time.

Image Courtesy:

“Fibromyalgia symptoms” by Mikael Häggström – Image: File:Frau-2.jpg by Ralf Roletschek (User:Marcela). [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons