The Connection Between Leg Pain And Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia’s defining characteristic is widespread pain, including leg pain. Leg pain and fibromyalgia may vary from person to person, but can present as sharp pain, a dull ache, deep pain, or more of an aching sensation. If you’re suffering from this type of pain, there is hope. Here’s what you should know about treating and managing it.
What does fibromyalgia leg pain feel like?
If you’re suffering from fibromyalgia leg pain, you may experience throbbing, shooting, achy, or burning sensations in your legs. Often, you’ll feel the pain at your fibro tender points, particularly inside of each knee and on the hip just behind your hipbone. The pain can radiate from those spots, and also be accompanied by numbness, stiffness, or tingling.
This pain is often also related to restless leg syndrome. If you’re suffering from pain in your legs because of fibromyalgia, there are treatments that can help you find relief. We’ll discuss those later in this post.
What causes leg pain in fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia leg pain may develop in the tendons, muscles, or ligaments surrounding the joints. Although the pain manifests in these areas, the sensations are amplified by problems in pain processing by the nervous system, according to the American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association.
Other symptoms causing leg pain related to fibromyalgia include restless leg syndrome and numbness or tingling in the extremities. Fibromyalgia affects anywhere from 2% to 4% of U.S. adults, most of them women.
Fibromyalgia is not very well understood, and no cure exists although its symptoms can be managed using a variety of traditional and alternative therapies, along with lifestyle changes.
Restless leg syndrome and fibromyalgia
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop restless leg syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by throbbing or other difficult-to-manage sensations that create an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. The sensations typically worsen at night and dissipate by morning. They can occur in one or both legs.
By moving their legs, people with restless leg syndrome can find relief from their fibromyalgia leg pain and other unpleasant feelings. However, lying down also tends to aggravate the leg sensations, making it difficult to sleep, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Researchers found that 33% of study participants with fibromyalgia also had restless leg syndrome while only 3% of those without fibromyalgia had the syndrome.
Disturbed sleep marks another common symptom of fibromyalgia, and researchers said many people with fibromyalgia can attribute the disruption to restless leg syndrome.
Most treatments of restless leg syndrome are directed at alleviating the symptoms, according to NINDS. Lifestyle changes that may alleviate restless leg syndrome related to fibromyalgia may include:
- Limiting caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol intake
- Taking supplements such as iron, magnesium, and folate
- Adopting a regular pattern of sleep
- Heating pads
Neuropathic fibromyalgia leg pain
Neuropathy causes tingling or pain in the extremities, including the feet. Some patients with fibromyalgia may actually have a related disorder known as small-fiber polyneuropathy (SFPN), according to a study presented at a meeting of the American Neurological Association.
Researchers found 46% of patients with fibromyalgia had SFPN, which is a type of peripheral neuropathy that is sometimes treatable. Anne Louise Oaklander, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and study author, notes:
“This provides some of the first objective evidence of a mechanism behind some cases of fibromyalgia, and identifying an underlying cause is the first step towards finding better treatments,”
SFPN causes widespread pain, similar to fibromyalgia, but has tests that can offer a definitive diagnosis, which is not the case with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia tender points in the legs
People with fibromyalgia frequently develop tender pain points, also known as trigger points, that are found in the legs. Each person has nine pairs of points on the body that may result in pain when pressed, according to WebMD. On the leg, tender points may develop on the inside of each knee and on the hip just behind the hipbone.
A clear fibromyalgia diagnosis results when a person experiences pain at a minimum of 11 tender pain points, although in practice, that number is sometimes less, according to WebMD. Leg pain related to fibromyalgia may result when trigger points cause pain in the area.
Leg pain and fibromyalgia treatment
Treatment for fibromyalgia leg pain typically requires a comprehensive approach, with a mix of medicines and lifestyle changes designed to reduce pain and improve quality of life.
Fibromyalgia leg pain treatments may include:
- Encouraging more restful sleep
- Eating a fibro-healthy diet
- Undergoing physical therapy
- Trying interventional therapies
- Taking medication
Lifestyle changes are one of the best ways people with leg pain and fibromyalgia can manage pain. Managing issues such as restless leg syndrome are critical for ensuring quality sleep.
Ways to encourage restful sleep include:
- Establishing a regular sleep schedule
- Exercising early in the day
- Keeping the bed for sleeping only
- Creating a relaxing pre-bedtime routing
Browsing the Internet or reading a book in bed can keep the brain awake and make it difficult to sleep. Taking a bath or listening to relaxing music helps the day fade into the background and the mind unwind.
Making sure to get enough exercise is another important lifestyle factor, possibly the most important for managing leg pain and fibromyalgia, according to NIAMS. Fighting through the pain and fatigue to get the heart pumping, taking a walk, or riding a bike can support good sleep and also alleviate pain.
Since fibromyalgia has an inflammatory component, eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce symptoms. Many people with fibromyalgia have food sensitivities, whether with gluten, dairy, eggs, or preservatives, according to WebMD. Keeping a food journal to identify any foods that trigger leg pain can help manage the symptoms.
To make cooking with healthy food easier, purchase fruits and vegetables that are already chopped or washed. Buying prepared foods from a natural or health foods store can also be an alternative to cooking. Take care to read ingredient lists because sometimes prepared foods have potentially pain-causing ingredients even if they’re touted as healthy.
Cooking with herbs including the potent anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant spices ginger and turmeric may also help reduce leg pain related to fibromyalgia.
Medications for fibromyalgia leg pain
Medicines recommended for fibromyalgia include painkillers such as Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil. NSAIDs work by reducing fibromyalgia-related inflammation and alleviating aches and pains. However, long-term use of painkillers may cause physical side effects such as fluid retention, high blood pressure, and problems with the stomach, kidney, or heart.
Narcotics are sometimes prescribed, but there isn’t any evidence that the drugs mitigate leg pain related to fibromyalgia, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Additionally, narcotics carry significant risks of addiction and abuse.
Other options may include muscle relaxants if you experience muscle spasms.
If you’re experiencing severe pain and at-home treatments haven’t worked, talk to your doctor. They’ll likely start by prescribing physical therapy. This can help correct imbalances in your muscles and stretch them.
For some, physical therapy may be too painful. In these situations, combining physical therapy with epidural steroid injections can help you get the therapy you need to correct the underlying issue, while managing your pain during your sessions.