What Fibromyalgia Feels Like

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What Does Fibromyalgia Feel Like?

"I've had a lot of pain lately, plus I'm exhausted, and my doctor doesn't know why. It's a kind of pain I've never felt before, and it's all over my body. Someone recently suggested that it could be fibromyalgia, so I started reading about it.

"I came across a lot of references to 'the unique pain of fibromyalgia,' but not exactly what's unique about it. I've also seen that there are a lot of other symptoms, including problems with thinking and memory, and I've had some of those too.

"I really want to go to my next doctor's appointment with some suggestions in mind, but I don't know if I should bring up fibromyalgia. So please, can you tell me, what does fibromyalgia feel like?"


That's a tough question to answer succinctly because fibromyalgia can vary greatly from person to person. Pain is a subjective experience, hence people experience variations of it. Fibromyalgia is unique in that there is no adequate objective explanation for the extent of the diffuse pains.

However, we do have some common experiences of pain and other symptoms that might be helpful to you.

Many people with fibromyalgia describe a burning pain or pins-and-needles sensation, similar to the feeling of blood rushing back into your foot after it's fallen asleep.

Others describe aching all over like they've been pounded by a meat tenderizer. Some get electric zings, as well. It's also common to hear about painful skin that feels like it's been sunburned.

A lot of us have pain that doesn't seem to make sense. It can be from things that are normally harmless, such as a cold breeze, soft fabric moving across the skin, ​or light pressure from a handshake.

The waistband of a loose-fitting pair of pants or the belt on a bathrobe may cause searing pain. Bra straps, the elastic in socks and underwear, and the tag in a shirt may become major sources of irritation or pain.

Fibromyalgia pain can range from mild to debilitating and change frequently and rapidly throughout the day.

One day, we might have low pain levels and be able to function somewhat normally, while other days we're bedridden with it. You may feel fine one moment and then have pain slam into you and make you feel like you were hit by a bus.

Beyond Pain

Fibromyalgia involves much more than just pain. Other frequent symptoms include panic disorders or waking up feeling unrefreshed as if you haven't slept at all. Sleep disorders are common, too, including:

People with fibromyalgia also experience cognitive dysfunction, which is often called fibro fog.

Fibro fog can make us unable to think clearly or remember what we were just doing. Short-term memory loss is common, and many of us lose the ability to multi-task.

We can have difficulty remembering what we read, learning new material, or absorbing what people say to us—especially if there's something competing for our attention.

Other common problems include doing simple math, becoming disoriented in familiar surroundings, or even putting a simple sentence together. A lot of people say they feel like their brain is packed in cotton.

Many of us have a whole set of odd little symptoms that are bothersome but not anywhere near as bad as the big three of pain, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction. It's common to hear someone with this illness say, "I thought I was the only one," because the shortlists of symptoms we usually come across don't include them.

Sensory processing difficulty is a common second-tier symptom in fibromyalgia. Loud or repetitive noises, bright or flashing lights, or strong chemical smells (such as the laundry aisle at the grocery store) can trigger a rush of symptoms.

Fibromyalgia involves an overly sensitive nervous system, and that can make us react badly to all kinds of sensory input. It may seem incongruous that noise would give you stabbing pains in the abdomen, but that's the kind of unusual reactions we can have to those things.

Talking to Your Doctor

When it comes to bringing up fibromyalgia to your doctor as a possible diagnosis, you should understand that you may meet with some resistance. The reason for that may vary, from it being too soon since your symptoms started to the doctor simply not "believing" the condition is real.

Here's information on that:

A Word From Verywell

Fibromyalgia has a lot of symptoms in common with other conditions, so while it pays to be informed about what you could have, try not to jump to conclusions about what's causing your symptoms.

It's important to stay open-minded and work with your doctor through what can be a long, frustrating diagnostic process. Remember that your goal is to get an accurate diagnosis so that you can find the right treatments for you.

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Article Sources
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  5. Clauw DJ, Arnold LM, Mccarberg BH. The science of fibromyalgia. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011;86(9):907-11. doi:10.4065/mcp.2011.0206