Odd Nerve Sensations in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

doctor examining a wrist in pain

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Paresthesia is the medical term used to describe odd, but not usually painful sensations including tingling, crawling, itching, numbness, and prickling. These sensations can be mild, somewhat annoying, uncomfortable, or, in people with fibromyalgia, even quite painful.

Some people describe them as an annoying tickle or a hair brushing against their skin. Others may experience a sensation similar to the "pins and needles" of a foot that's "fallen asleep" due to restricted blood flow, or bugs crawling under the skin.

Paresthesias often come and go rather than being a constant sensation. They can strike without warning, usually without an obvious trigger. While these sensations are most common in the extremities—your feet, hands, and face—they can be present anywhere in the body.

Paresthesias

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are both associated with paresthesias, including the painful kind. They can be of any severity and get more or less painful over time.

On the topic of chronic fatigue syndrome, there is not substantial research on paresthesias, only a wealth of anecdotal reports. As in fibromyalgia, paresthesias can range from mild to severe and can show up just about anywhere.

In fibromyalgia, this symptom is firmly established by research as well as by anecdotal reports from people with the condition.

A 2009 study suggests that people with fibromyalgia who also smoke cigarettes tend to have more severe pain from paresthesias. This is just one of several fibromyalgia symptoms that smoking may exacerbate. Quitting smoking may help alleviate the pain, as well as other smoking-related symptoms.

A 2012 study suggests that carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is more common in people with fibromyalgia than in the general population. CTS is a painful and potentially debilitating condition that involves nerve compression and/or swelling in the wrist.

CTS is common in people who spend a lot of time on the computer or playing video games, and in checkers at the grocery store. The researchers who found this link warned that CTS can be hard to spot in people with fibromyalgia because the pain can be mistaken for paresthesias.

If you have fibromyalgia and pain in your hands, especially nerve pain or nerve "zings," and if they get worse when you're asleep or trying to sleep, you may want to ask your healthcare provider to check for CTS. Left untreated, it could get significantly worse over time.

Causes

Paresthesias are commonly caused by damage to peripheral nerves (those in the arms and legs), or pressure on those nerves, which may be a result of inflammation or injury. Chemotherapy drugs may also bring about these sensations; however, most of the time the cause is unknown.

In fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, one hypothesis is that paresthesias are the result of heightened sensitivity of the nerves and amplified pain response in the brain. However, with further research, more possibilities are arising.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is believed to be associated with inflammation, a potential cause of paresthesia. Fibromyalgia was long believed not to involve inflammation, but research suggests low levels of inflammation in the connective tissue called the fascia. This raises the possibility that inflammation may contribute to paresthesias in this condition.

Another line of inquiry involves damage to small nerve fibers, which are in your skin, organs, and the nerves of your arms and legs. Their job is to provide sensation for your skin, such as when you touch something, and to control the function of your autonomic nervous system.

Nerve damage that affects the arms and legs is called peripheral neuropathy. When this condition affects organs and automatic functions, such as regulating heart rate and breathing, the condition is called small fiber neuropathy.

Treatment

When paresthesias aren't painful or disruptive, they do not need to be treated. But when they are painful, there are several treatment methods your doctor may recommend. 

Some options for peripheral neuropathy are used to treat fibromyalgia, including Lyrica (pregabalin) and Neurontin (gabapentin). Neurologists and rheumatologists are the healthcare professionals who understand paresthesias and how to best treat them.

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5 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.
  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Paresthesia information page. Updated March 27, 2019.

  2. Pamuk ÖN, Dönmez S, Çakir N. The frequency of smoking in fibromyalgia patients and its association with symptoms. Rheumatol Int. 2009;29(11):1311-1314. doi:10.1007/s00296-009-0851-5

  3. Nacir B, Genc H, Duyur Cakit B, Karagoz A, Erdem HR. Evaluation of upper extremity nerve conduction velocities and the relationship between fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome. Arch Med Res. 2012;43(5):369-374. doi:10.1016/j.arcmed.2012.07.004

  4. Liptan GL. Fascia: a missing link in our understanding of the pathology of fibromyalgia. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2010;14(1):3-12. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2009.08.003

  5. Üçeyler N, Zeller D, Kahn AK, et al. Small fibre pathology in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome. Brain. 2013;136(6):1857-1867. doi:10.1093/brain/awt053

Additional Reading
  • Gupta D, Harney J. Small fiber neuropathy demonstrated in pain syndromes. Poster session presented at Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. 2010 Apr 10-17. Toronto, Ontario.

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