What is Fibromyalgia and How Does it Affect a Person’s Work?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic illness that involves widespread pain or pain that can be felt all over the body. It also causes fatigue, headaches, sleep and digestive problems, brain fog, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

The severity of symptoms may vary, with some patients experiencing mostly mild, while others moderate or severe. Patients may also have good days, which seem to be symptom-free, and then suddenly followed by flares where almost all of the symptoms can be felt.   

There is, at present, no cure for fibromyalgia. Patients, instead, can take medications for specific symptoms such as for pain, sleep problems, and depression. Aside from prescriptions, patients are also advised to practice management strategies and undergo therapies. 

Fibromyalgia can affect anyone regardless of age, but it is more commonly detected among individuals between 30 and 40 years old. 

Considering that this period falls within the working age, fibromyalgia can definitely have a huge impact on a person’s work. Below are some of them. 

Risk of overexertion

People living with chronic illnesses should always be mindful of their condition whenever they perform strenuous work. While lack of physical activity can make a person weak, too much exertion can worsen the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

In a focus group interview involving employed fibromyalgia patients, respondents shared that physical symptoms such as pain, exhaustion and fatigue worsen because of overexertion. [1

Specifically, work demands such as having to walk long distances, having to lift heavy items, and not being able to move for a long period of time make the symptoms worse. [2


People living with fibromyalgia will definitely need to devote time to care for themselves, including both to visit their doctor as well as to take some rest because of their symptoms. 

Getting necessary treatment for the symptoms was among the causes of greater difficulties encountered at work by fibromyalgia patients. [3] In fact, a study of a National Insurance Survey showed that fibromyalgia was the prevailing reason for sick leave among 635 long-term sick-leavers. [4

Need for flexible work arrangements

As mentioned earlier, the different demands at work can worsen the symptoms of fibromyalgia. This is not to say, however, that patients should forego their jobs to avoid this risk. First, not everyone has the financial capacity to do so. Second, even if they do, many patients prefer to continue working especially when they love their job so much and have been doing it for a long time.

There is a need, however, for certain accommodations so that people living with fibromyalgia can continue working while at the same time taking into account their needs related to their condition.

Bossema et. al. interviewed fibromyalgia patients who were or have been employed to find out the different factors that will make work suitable for them. [5] Some of the characteristics they mentioned include:

  1. being able to take a break if necessary,
  2. being given an appropriate workload, whether physical or mental
  3. availability of help both from colleagues and management
  4. being able to enter into formal arrangements with the management such as reduction of workload


As a chronic condition that usually affects people in the working age, fibromyalgia can definitely have an impact on a patient’s life. This includes the risk of overexertion as well as absenteeism at work. There are, however, different ways that will help patients remain productive in their jobs despite this chronic disease. Communication between the management and the patient to discuss arrangements can be a great help to people affected by this condition. 


—–Ben’s Friends is a network of safe and supportive online communities for individuals affected by a rare disease or chronic condition. Our Living with Fibromyalgia Community aims to provide online support to people affected by fibromyalgia. If you think you would benefit from our community, we invite you to sign up here.