Fibromyalgia Pain From Clothing

Fibromyalgia is a disorder in which pain signals appear to be amplified by the central nervous system. The pain can sometimes be so intense that the simple scraping of clothes against the skin can set off burning sensations or sharp, stabbing pains.

This reaction, known as mechanical allodynia, is commonly described by people with fibromyalgia. Bras, waistbands, ties on bathrobes, or anything that places pressure on your skin can trigger fibromyalgia pain. The pain may be generalized (all over) or be limited to areas around your tender points.

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

If living with fibromyalgia, there are several ways to minimize the pain triggered by the clothes that you wear.

Loosen the Waistband

Unless you want to wear long, flowy dresses all the time, you've got to find ways to spare your waist from the pressure caused by waistbands. There are several ways to do this:

  • Ditch the pantyhose: Forget control-top hosiery. 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-high hosiery keeps your legs looking nice while alleviating pressure on your hips, buttocks, and midsection where many tender points are centered.
  • Wear low-rise clothing: Opt for bikini briefs that sit lower on your hips instead of the fuller briefs that go clear up to your waist. If you don't like the thought of low-rise pants that expose your midsection, try pairing them with a long shirt for complete coverage.
  • Do the sit test: When trying on pants, don't stand in front of the mirror. Sit down, slouch, twist, and lean forward. If they're still comfortable, they're a great choice. If not, find something else.
  • Visit the maternity section: You don't necessarily want to buy oversized maternity clothes, but you may benefit from maternity pants that have an underbelly band designed to sit lower on the abdomen.
  • Opt for drawstring sweats: When it comes to sweatpants, a drawstring wins out over an elastic waistband because it is adjustable. If your weight fluctuates or you eat a lot while wearing them, you can loosen the waistband accordingly.
  • Try loungewear: On days where the fibromyalgia pain is severe, opt for loungewear while at home. This includes loose pajama sets, nightshirts, nightgowns, and bathrobes with a zipper instead of a tie. And, rather than wearing pants, consider leg warmers to reduce temperature sensitivity common in people with fibromyalgia.

Find the Right Bra

An underwire bra may support you nicely, but if you have fibromyalgia, it may cause more grief than gratification. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Soft-cup bras: Even if you're a larger size, you can find soft-cup bras that give you ample support. Check out specialty lingerie shops or plus-size boutiques. Look for wide shoulder straps that don't dig into the shoulders as much as thinner straps do.
  • Sports bras: As long as they're not too tight, sports bras are comfortable and put far less pressure around the rib cage.
  • Bralettes or bandeaus: If you're a smaller cup size, consider a bralette, an unlined soft-cup bra popular among teens who don't need as much lift. Another option is a bandeau that is basically a tube of fabric that goes around the chest without straps or under-cup support.

Consider getting a bra fitting. Many women either underestimate or overestimate their cup size. Both cause trigger pain if a bra is too tight (and places excessive pressure on the skin) or too loose (and rubs back and forth against the skin).

Wear the Right Socks

While many people with fibromyalgia have chronically cold feet and will buy long heavy socks to keep them warm, it is important to remember that tender points are often centered around the inner knee.

Placing pressure on these points, particularly with elastic socks, can end up triggering pain in the same way as a tight waistband.

There are several ways to overcome this:

  • Experiment with length: Look at where your socks cause localized pain and see if shorter socks will miss those spots.
  • Choose thinner fabrics: A heavy sock will place more pressure on your foot when you wear shoes. Thinner might be better.
  • Buy socks made for diabetics: Fibromyalgia pain has a lot in common with diabetic neuropathy and may be alleviated with the sensitive-foot socks made for people with diabetes. These are especially ideal if you have chronic fibromyalgia foot pain. Sensitive-foot socks are available online and at most specialty shoe stores.

Select Softer Fabrics

The texture and weight of a fabric can make a big difference if you have fibromyalgia. Heavy wools may look fashionable and keep you warm, but, over the course of a day, can drive you mad with their abrasive texture.

Some of the better fabric options include:

  • Cotton
  • Silk
  • Satin
  • Viscose
  • Rayon
  • Fleece
  • Jersey

Look for shirts with the tags printed on the fabric instead of sewn in. If there are tags, cut them off and trim any loose edges.

A Word From Verywell

Lastly, if you're in the privacy of your own home, take off everything that's not comfortable and find something that is. More is often less when it comes to dressing for fibromyalgia.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. 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

  3. Bhargava J, Hurley JA. Fibromyalgia. In: StatPearls [Internet].

  4. Rowe PC, Underhill RA, Friedman KJ, et al. Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis and management in young people: a primer. Front Pediatr. 2017;5:121. doi: 10.3389/fped.2017.00121

  5. Larson AA, Pardo JV, Pasley JD. Review of overlap between thermoregulation and pain modulation in fibromyalgia. Clin J Pain. 2014 Jun;30(6):544-55. doi:10.1097/AJP.0b013e3182a0e383

  6. Ferrari R. A cohort-controlled trial of the addition of customized foot orthotics to standard care in fibromyalgiaClin Rheumatol. 2012;31(7):1041-5. doi:10.1007/s10067-012-1966-8

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.