Amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome (AMPS) is an umbrella term for noninflammatory musculoskeletal pain. It can cause pain anywhere in the body and commonly affects children and adolescents.

AMPS may cause a person to experience chronic musculoskeletal pain with no explanation. Other common symptoms of AMPS may include headaches, abdominal pain, and arthralgia, which refers to joint pain. Health experts may use other names to refer to AMPS, including:

  • juvenile fibromyalgia syndrome
  • chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP)
  • chronic widespread pain
  • reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • reflex neurovascular dystrophy
  • myofascial pain

In this article, we discuss the causes of AMPS and its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Medical professionals do not fully understand the exact cause of AMPS. Some evidence suggests that the condition occurs due to an atypical response by the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.

This response can cause over-amplification of the pain signal. This may result in a person with AMPS experiencing a higher level of pain than someone without the disorder, despite them both experiencing the same pain stimulus.

A person with AMPS may experience pain that originates in the peripheral or central parts of the body. They can also experience pain that is chronic or pain that comes and goes.

AMPS is a type of CMP. Evidence notes that CMP is the third most common cause for referral to a pediatric rheumatologist. It is also the third most common cause of chronic pain in children and adolescents.

If a person experiences chronic pain, they are more likely also to experience psychological symptoms, such as:

A person with AMPS may also experience the following symptoms:

  • headaches
  • abdominal pain
  • dizziness
  • arthralgias
  • tachycardia
  • allodynia, which is the name for a painful sensation in response to nonpainful touch
  • fatigue
  • disrupted sleep
  • stress

AMPS can also cause a person to experience disproportionate physical dysfunction in relation to the anticipated amount of pain that might occur due to particular stimuli. This can cause the person to:

  • be unable to bear weight
  • avoid using their extremities (or arms and legs)
  • become intolerant to touch from other people
  • become intolerant to the touch of clothing or bedding
  • be absent from school
  • avoid or reduce participation in extracurricular activities

If a person is experiencing pain and other symptoms of AMPS, a doctor will often ask for their medical history. This will include past illnesses and injuries. The doctor may also carry out a physical exam that will include:

  • an inspection of the joints
  • pressing on the surface of the body to feel the tissues underneath
  • testing the child’s range of motion
  • strength testing

When diagnosing AMPS, a doctor may also assess the way the child’s pain affects their daily life. This can include how it affects a person’s:

  • sleep
  • school life
  • social life
  • emotions
  • physical functioning

To diagnose AMPS, a medical professional will need to be able to ensure that the pain is not due to an underlying cause. They will need to rule out the following possible causes for the pain:

To rule out these possible causes, a doctor may carry out certain tests, such as blood tests or imaging studies. They will often not require these tests for an AMPS diagnosis.

If a doctor has diagnosed a primary or secondary cause of a child’s pain, they will begin by treating this cause. If they have not diagnosed a cause for the pain, they will work toward treating the AMPS itself.

The goal of treatment for AMPS is to return the child to their typical functioning. Treatment can do this by:

  • minimizing pain
  • restoring typical sleep
  • restoring typical mood
  • decreasing any negative effects the pain has on their quality of life
  • reducing stress

Possible nonpharmacologic treatment for AMPS can include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a therapy technique that helps adjust people’s behavior by changing their thinking patterns. CBT sessions focus on exploring new approaches to everyday challenges.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy is a treatment process that uses a set of exercises, massages, and other treatments involving physical stimuli. Physical therapy can relieve pain and help a person move better. It can also help strengthen weakened muscles.
  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapists help a person participate in everyday life activities. The goal of this method is to improve quality of life through participation in meaningful occupations. An occupational therapist may help a person take part in everyday activities, such as bathing and eating.

A doctor may also suggest the child with AMPS undertakes regular aerobic exercise. This is because exercise can help reduce stress.

AMPS can often cause problems for parents, caregivers, and other family members. This is why a doctor will sometimes suggest the family undergoes family counseling.

A parent or caregiver should contact a doctor if their child has difficulties from chronic pain that affects their daily life. Early diagnosis may be key to help find the cause of this pain, which may require specific treatment.

It is also important that a child with AMPS receives treatment as those with chronic pain from AMPS can experience mental health symptoms such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • suicidal ideation

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome is an umbrella term for noninflammatory musculoskeletal pain that commonly affects children and adolescents. If a child has AMPS, they can experience musculoskeletal pain anywhere in their body. Some people experience AMPS pain that comes and goes, while others experience chronic pain.

Other symptoms of AMPS include headaches, abdominal pain, dizziness, arthralgias, and tachycardia. It may also cause a child to experience mental health symptoms such as stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

A doctor will attempt to diagnose the cause of the pain and treat it. If they cannot identify the cause, treatment will aim to help return the child to their everyday functioning. Possible treatments for AMPS include physical therapy, CBT, occupational therapy, and family therapy. A doctor may also suggest the child undertakes regular physical exercise, which can be a suitable treatment for stress.