If you think you might have fibromyalgia, or if you’ve recently been diagnosed with the condition, you’ll want to establish a relationship with a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia treatment. Finding the right doctors who treat fibromyalgia is a crucial step on the path to well-being.
In the past, some doctors dismissed fibromyalgia as psychosomatic – that is, “all in your head.” Fortunately, it’s now understood to be a real chronic pain condition, possibly linked to changes in how the brain processes pain signals from the body, a process known as central sensitization.¹ To get the best care, you’ll want to work with someone who takes your symptoms seriously and is committed to your health.
So, what kind of doctor treats fibromyalgia? What kind of specialist should you see? In this article, we’ll discuss different types of doctors who treat this condition and how to find a doctor who specializes in fibromyalgia near you.
Types of Doctors Who Treat Fibromyalgia
There are several different kinds of doctors who can treat fibromyalgia. This may leave you unsure where to begin in getting the care you need. Let’s take a look at your options and clarify which is the best doctor to see for fibromyalgia treatment.
Primary Care Doctors
Generally speaking, you’ll want to start by making an appointment with your primary care clinician. Ideally, your primary doctor will be your partner in coordinating all of your care, not only for fibromyalgia but for any other conditions you might have and for your overall health.
Some primary care clinicians are knowledgeable about fibromyalgia and have experience diagnosing and treating it. Your primary physician may be well qualified to answer your questions and manage your care. It’s also possible that they will refer you to another type of doctor for specialized treatment. If you don’t feel confident that your primary doctor is an expert in fibromyalgia, or if you’d just like a second opinion or an additional perspective, you can also find specialized fibromyalgia practices online.
If your health insurance plan is a health maintenance organization (HMO), you will most likely need your primary care physician to make a referral to a specialist, and perhaps also to get authorization for care, before the cost of a visit with that specialist will be covered by your insurance.
Fibromyalgia is a complex health condition, and it can take some time to figure out what treatments will work best for you. Your primary care physician will be a key companion on this journey, so it’s important that you have a good working relationship. It’s essential that they take you and your symptoms seriously. It’s also crucial that you feel confident in their expertise about fibromyalgia. And finally, the two of you need to be able to communicate well. You should feel comfortable asking questions, and your doctor should be willing to answer them.
Different people need and expect different things from their primary care doctors. Some people prefer a doctor who is willing to engage with them intellectually, explaining the rationale and research behind their recommendations. Others would rather see a doctor who has an especially warm, caring, and reassuring manner. If for any reason you feel that your doctor isn’t a good fit for you or your situation, consider switching to a new primary care provider. If you have an HMO, you can start this process by calling your health plan. If you don’t already have a designated primary care doctor, contact your health plan to choose one.
If you ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a specialist for fibromyalgia, they’ll most likely send you to a rheumatologist. Rheumatology is the branch of medicine that is concerned with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system: the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Because rheumatologists treat other conditions with symptoms similar to fibromyalgia, like arthritis, they can help determine whether you have fibromyalgia or a related condition (or perhaps both).
Rheumatologists historically have been the specialists who see people with fibromyalgia. However, not every rheumatologist specializes in fibromyalgia or treats it in the long-term. Since fibromyalgia itself is not an autoimmune disease, some rheumatologists may not be comfortable or familiar with the latest treatments. Before you meet with a rheumatologist, ask about their approach to treating fibromyalgia, and consider if their approach lines up with your expectations..
Pain Management Specialists
As you know if you have fibromyalgia, widespread pain is its primary symptom. For this reason, most pain specialists are quite knowledgeable about the best treatments for fibromyalgia pain. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a pain specialist. Even if they don’t offer this referral, you may wish to ask for a consultation for help with pain management.
Pain management is an multidisciplinary field, meaning that different kinds of doctors work as pain specialists. You can expect a pain management specialist to offer expert advice in using both non-drug and drug approaches to treating fibromyalgia pain. They will interview you extensively about your pain and recommend customized treatment, possibly including medications, physical therapy, behavioral therapy specific to pain, and other therapies such as nerve blocks or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Some pain specialists take a team approach, where you receive care from several different kinds of practitioners within the same clinic.
Neurologists specialize in medical conditions related to the brain, the spinal cord, and nerves throughout the body. Since research suggests that fibromyalgia may be caused by changes in how the brain and spinal cord respond to pain signals, it’s not surprising that many neurologists treat pain related to fibromyalgia. Your primary care provider may refer you to a neurologist for consultation or treatment.
A neurologist will typically begin by doing a thorough exam to assess the condition of your nervous system, including the nerves in your head and neck; your reflexes, balance, and muscle strength; and your memory, cognition, speech, and language. They may order diagnostic imaging such as a CAT scan or MRI. They may also order blood tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. To treat fibromyalgia, neurologists may recommend physical therapy; movement; pain medications, antiepileptic drugs, or antidepressants; or some combination of these treatments.
Non-Doctor Providers (Nurse Practitioners, Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists)
Not every healthcare provider who treats fibromyalgia is a physician. You may be receiving your primary care from an advanced practice provider such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. These professionals have advanced training in diagnosing and treating common medical conditions. They may also have a patient-centered philosophy. For instance, they may prioritize listening to their patients without rushing. In addition to physicians and advanced practice providers, there are many other kinds of clinicians who can help guide your care and ease your symptoms.
Movement has been shown to be helpful in relieving fibromyalgia pain, so you may find it worthwhile to work with a physical therapist.² They can provide movement therapy in the office and sometimes even by videoconference. Aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening can also be effective in managing pain,³ and a physical therapist can help you design an exercise program that works for you.
You might also want to consider exploring complementary and alternative medicine. Research suggests that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for fibromyalgia symptoms,⁴ so you may wish to see an acupuncturist. While there is currently insufficient evidence to know whether chiropractic care is effective for fibromyalgia, many people with fibromyalgia find that working with a chiropractor can help support their overall well-being. There’s a lot to be said for working with a holistic practitioner who takes the time to get to know you and form a caring and supportive relationship with you.
Where to Find Fibromyalgia Specialists
You may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but how do I go about finding a fibromyalgia doctor near me?” There are many factors to consider. You’ll want to work with a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about your condition and qualified to provide good treatment. You may wish to see different providers for different aspects of your care, such as a rheumatologist to confirm your diagnosis, a pain management specialist to help with discomfort, and a physical therapist to help you move your body more comfortably. And if you have health insurance, you will most likely want to work with providers within your network when possible.
This can be a bit daunting, so let’s take a look at some ways to get started. With persistence and creativity, you can find the right professionals to help you on your journey.
Primary Care Referrals
You may already have a primary care doctor who is well qualified to diagnose and treat fibromyalgia. In that case, you can simply make an appointment to discuss your symptoms; get a diagnosis, if you don’t already have one; and begin making a care plan. If your primary care doctor feels that it would be helpful for you to see a specialist, they can provide referrals to other doctors who specialize in fibromyalgia, such as rheumatologists, neurologists, or pain management specialists. If necessary, they can also start the insurance authorization process.
It’s okay to advocate for yourself. If your primary doctor doesn’t take the lead in offering referrals, you can be the one to ask to see a specialist. You might say something like “I’d really like to talk to a rheumatologist about this. Would you be willing to refer me?” or “I’ve heard physical therapy can really help with fibromyalgia. Could you refer me to a good physical therapist?” or “I’m still having a lot of pain, even with the medications we’ve tried. Would it be possible for you to refer me to a pain management specialist?” While it may be uncomfortable to speak up in this way, it is appropriate to do so, and it can be essential in getting the best care.
If you live in or near a major city, there may be fibromyalgia specialists practicing in your area. However, if you live in a smaller town or a rural region, there simply may not be any doctors who specialize in fibromyalgia near you. This can be a major barrier to getting high-quality medical treatment.
It can be inconvenient to drive for hours or even stay overnight to get the care you need. If you are caring for children or have other responsibilities that make it difficult to be away from home, traveling for medical appointments can become very burdensome. Along with the inconvenience, you’ll incur the costs of transportation and lodging. If you’re employed, this travel can require you to take time off work. And, as a person with fibromyalgia, you are probably living with some pain, fatigue, and other symptoms that can make it challenging to spend hours in the car or sleep away from home.
Telemedicine can be an excellent option for people with fibromyalgia. Telemedicine simply means getting care from a doctor who is in a different location from you. Typically, appointments take place over the phone or using videoconferencing. With telemedicine, you are not as constrained by geography. You have the opportunity to get care from doctors located further from your home, including specialists in major cities whose expertise may otherwise be hard to access.
To connect with doctors who offer telemedicine for fibromyalgia, you can start by taking the fibromyalgia assessment on Swing Care.
Telemedicine isn’t the ideal solution in every situation. If you reach out to a telemedicine provider for fibromyalgia care, they will ask you intake questions to help determine whether it would be suitable for you. There are some limits on physicians caring for patients across state lines. If you’re considering telemedicine, you’ll want to be sure the provider is licensed to care for patients living in your state. Telemedicine may not be a good fit if it’s very important to you to have an in-person connection with your care providers. But if you don’t mind seeing your doctor remotely, telemedicine can be a great choice.
Certain services, such as physical examinations, lab work, and hands-on physical therapy, can only be provided in person. If telemedicine is your main approach, you may still need to go to a medical center for some of your care. However, most appointments can be handled remotely. Telemedicine can go a long way toward making it comfortable and convenient to get high-quality medical care.
Here’s one more tip for finding doctors who specialize in fibromyalgia: ask other people living with fibro. Support groups can offer compassionate listening, practical suggestions for living with the condition, and a welcoming community of people who understand what you’re going through. They can also be a great source of recommendations when it comes to rheumatologists, pain management specialists, neurologists, and other healthcare providers, as well as primary care physicians in your area who are knowledgeable about diagnosing and treating fibromyalgia.
Some medical centers host in-person fibromyalgia support groups or classes. Other people attending these groups can be an excellent source of referrals. If you’d like to explore this possibility, ask your primary care provider what groups or classes are available to you. You could also join an online support community such as Support Fibromyalgia Network, which offers an active discussion group on Facebook as well as a list of fibromyalgia resources. The National Fibromyalgia Association also maintains a member-contributed list of fibromyalgia doctors in each state.
Unfortunately, some healthcare providers minimize the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms. Some doctors don’t listen compassionately, and not every doctor is up-to-date about what causes fibromyalgia or how to treat it effectively. The good news is that there are plenty of excellent doctors out there, and there are new options for accessing care, like telemedicine. With time and intention, you can put together a care team that’s committed to helping you live your best life.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Andrea Chadwick, MD
¹ Harte, S. E., Harris, R. E., & Clauw, D. J. (2018.) The neurobiology of central sensitization. Journal of applied biobehavioral research 23(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/jabr.12137
² Bravo, C., Skjaerven, L. H., Guitard Sein-Echaluce, L., & Catalan-Matamoros, D. (2019). Effectiveness of movement and body awareness therapies in patients with fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European journal of physical and rehabilitation medicine, 55(5), 646–657. https://doi.org/10.23736/S1973-9087.19.05291-2
³ Sosa-Reina, M. D., Nunez-Nagy, S., Gallego-Izquierdo, T., Pecos-Martín, D., Monserrat, J., & Álvarez-Mon, M. (2017). Effectiveness of Therapeutic Exercise in Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. BioMed research international, 2017, 2356346. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/2356346
⁴ Zhang, X. C., Chen, H., Xu, W. T., Song, Y. Y., Gu, Y. H., & Ni, G. X. (2019). Acupuncture therapy for fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of pain research, 12, 527–542. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S186227