Fibromyalgia Pain From Clothing

Is your skin painful to touch? Do your clothes cause fibromyalgia pain? This is a common symptom for people with fibromyalgia. Bras, waistbands, even ties on bathrobes...anything that puts pressure on your chest or abdomen can set off burning or intense, stabbing pains. Clothes can cause pain all over, on your tender points, and on areas that are numb or tingly.

Young woman putting on a shirt with man sitting in background
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Here are some tips for dressing when you're dealing with pain from clothing.

Spare Your Waist

Unless you want to wear long, flowy dresses all the time, you've got to find ways to spare your waist from all of those waistbands. There are several ways to get around this.

  • Ditch the pantyhose and buy thigh-highs: Forget control tops. They might feel okay when you put them on, but the last thing your body wants is to be squeezed for hours on end. Thigh-highs keep your legs looking nice while keeping your midsection much happier.
  • Go low: When it comes to underwear, try bikini briefs that sit down on your hips instead of the fuller styles that go clear up to your waist. And while you may not like the thought of low-rise pants that expose your belly button, try on a pair to see how much kinder they are to your gut. For those of us who don't want to bare all that skin, a long shirt can cover your midsection nicely.
  • Do the sit test: When you try on pants, don't just stand in front of the mirror. Sit down. Slouch. Lean forward. If they're still comfortable, you've got a winner.
  • Venture into the maternity section: I'm not talking about those horrid pants with the big baggy section in front, but about the ones with the "underbelly" band. It's a nice wide band at the top that's designed to sit lower on an expanding belly. For the non-pregnant, these pants are just an incredibly comfortable way to go.
  • Draw-string vs. elastic: When it comes to sweatpants, a drawstring wins out over an elastic waistband because it's adjustable. If your weight fluctuates or you eat a lot while wearing them, you can give yourself a little more room. True, the elastic will stretch, but you'll find it puts more pressure on you when it does. Some people have luck with loosening or removing the elastic.
  • Lounging about: Let's face it. Some days, clothes are just out of the question. A lot of us have spent entire days, maybe even weeks in attire most people consider only appropriate for sleeping. For those times, try a bathrobe with a zipper instead of a tie. Also, a lot of pajamas these days are shirts with pants or shorts. A nightgown is kinder to your body, but of course, your legs might get cold. Consider leg warmers to help with the chill.

Beating the Bra Blues

An underwire may support you nicely, but you'll likely be ready to rip it off before lunch. Here are some alternatives:

  • Soft-cup bras: Even if you're a larger size, you can find soft-cup bras that will give you support. Check out the selection at a specialty shop or a plus-size boutique. Also, get a bra fitting. Most women don't wear the right size, and a too-tight band is doing you no favors. Look for wide shoulder straps as well since they don't dig into the shoulders like thinner straps often do.
  • Sports bras: As long as they're not too tight, sports bras are comfortable and put far less of a squeeze around your rib cage. They also hold everything right in place.
  • Bralettes or bandeaus: If you're smaller, one of these styles might be the way to go. A bralette is an unlined soft-cup bra that's designed for comfort. It's most popular among teenagers because it doesn't provide much lift. A bandeau is basically a tube of fabric that goes around your chest. Again, the support isn't the best, but it won't poke you anywhere and cause pain.

A Feel for Fabrics

The texture and weight of a fabric can make a big difference in how it feels to you. Here are the ones that come highly recommended:

  • Cotton
  • Silk/Satin
  • Stretchy knits
  • Fleece
  • Flannel

Look for shirts with the tags printed on the fabric instead of sewn in.

Socks That Squeeze

Ah, that elastic dilemma again. This is a tough one since many people with fibromyalgia seem to have chronically cold feet, but no one wants loose, sloppy socks bagging around their ankles. So what can you do?

  • Experiment with length: Look at where your socks hurt you and see if a different length will miss those spots.
  • Try thinner fabric: A heavy sock will put more pressure on your foot when you wear shoes. Thinner might be better.
  • Look into socks made for people with diabetes: Our pain has a lot in common with diabetic neuropathy, so this makes a lot of sense. "Sensitive foot" socks are widely available online and at specialty shoe stores.

Take It Off

Lastly, if you're in the privacy of your own home, take off everything that's not comfortable and find something that is. The UPS guy has seen it all, and you'll feel better for it. And really, isn't that the most important thing?

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  1. Wilbarger JL, Cook DB. Multisensory hypersensitivity in women with fibromyalgia: implications for well being and intervention. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2011;92(4):653-6. doi:10.1016/j.apmr.2010.10.029