What Does Fibromyalgia Feel Like?

Pain, fatigue, and sleep problems can vary between people

Mature woman with head in hands

Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Getty Images

Fibromyalgia is a chronic medical condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness along with symptoms like fatigue, cold sensitivity, sleep problems, and a mental "fog." It can be difficult to more specifically describe what fibromyalgia feels like because it can vary so much from one person to the next.

For example, fibromyalgia pain—the defining feature of the condition—can be:

  • Diffuse (felt all over the body) or localized to specific parts of the body, such as the back, abdomen, or neck
  • Described as aching, burning, sharp, stabbing, or tingling
  • Constant, occurring in episodes, or get worse in certain situations (such as in cold weather or at night)

This article describes the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia in greater detail so you can have a better idea of how people experience the condition. If anything sounds familiar, speak to your healthcare provider.

What Exactly Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood medical condition that is classified as a central sensitization disorder. These are conditions in which the nervous system "misfires" and amplifies normal sensations to the point where they cause pain or discomfort.

Describing Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia is unique in that the diagnosis and characterization of the disease are based largely on a person's self-reported assessment of pain.

This can make a diagnosis challenging given that pain tolerance and perception are influenced as much by emotions as they are by somatic (physical) symptoms.

These are some of the variables that people with fibromyalgia pain may encounter:

  • Pain intensity: Some people experience constant stabbing pain throughout the body, while others experience a continuous, duller form of aching. For people with severe fibromyalgia, a cold breeze or a firm handshake can cause significant and even debilitating pain.
  • Pain location: Fibromyalgia pain can be generalized or be constrained to certain "tender points" on the body, such as the front of the neck, upper chest, inner elbows, inner knees, back of the head, top of the shoulders, upper back, and upper buttocks. The location of the pain can also shift from day to day or even hour to hour.
  • Nature of the pain: Words commonly used to describe fibromyalgia pain include aching, dull, numbing, burning, tingling, pins-and-needles, throbbing, pounding, shooting, sharp, stabbing, blinding, knife-like, needle-like, and others.
  • Pain triggers: Some people recognize specific situations that trigger a flare-up of pain, like changes in weather or waking up in the morning. Others experience sudden bouts of pain for no apparent reason.

15 Other Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Pain is the main feature of fibromyalgia, but it's not the only one. As a central sensitization disorder, the misinterpretation of nerve signals can affect other organ systems, including the brain, eyes, digestive tract, and muscles.

In addition to pain and tenderness, other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

It is important to keep a record of your symptoms, including when they occur, what they feel like, and what you are doing when they flare up. The more information your provider has, the sooner they will be able to render a diagnosis.

Comorbid Medical Conditions

Fibromyalgia is thought by many to be an extension of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It also commonly occurs with mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder, suggesting that a person with fibromyalgia's mental and emotional state greatly influence their pain sensitivity.

How to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

When it comes to discussing symptoms like these with a healthcare provider, people are sometimes met with skepticism—particularly if the provider has never dealt with fibromyalgia before.

In addition, fibromyalgia is diagnosed by a process of elimination, meaning that every other possible cause is considered and excluded before a fibromyalgia diagnosis is confidently made.

To this end, be patient and keep an open mind when speaking with your provider. While you may reasonably assume that your symptoms fit the profile of fibromyalgia, there are numerous other conditions that can cause fibromyalgia-like pain, including:

If your provider is not experienced with these issues, they can help refer you to a specialist who is, such as a rheumatologist.

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 healthcare provider 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 treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the first signs of fibromyalgia?

    The first signs of fibromyalgia are different for everyone but may include: 

    • Aching 
    • Fatigue
    • Non-restful sleep
    • Burning pain
    • Pins and needles
    • Pounding pain 
    • Overall soreness
  • Where do you hurt with fibromyalgia?

    While each person with fibromyalgia is different, the condition commonly includes the following tender points:

    • Back of the head
    • Front lower sides of the neck
    • Hips
    • Inner elbows
    • Just above the inner knee
    • Top of the shoulders
    • Upper back near the shoulder blades
    • Upper buttocks
    • Upper chest
  • Can fibromyalgia cause weak legs?

    Yes, fibromyalgia can cause weakness in your legs. However, the condition presents differently in each individual and you may not experience this.

  • What type of doctor diagnoses and treats fibromyalgia?

    In some cases, primary care physicians or internal medicine doctors are well-versed in spotting the condition and can make a diagnosis. In other cases, you may be referred to a rheumatologist, neurologist, or another specialist to rule out other possible causes of pain.

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. American College of Rheumatology. Fibromyalgia.

  2. Wolfe F, Clauw D, Fitzcharles M, et al. 2016 Revisions to the 2010/2011 fibromyalgia diagnostic criteriaSemin Arthritis Rheum. 2016;46(3):319–29. doi:10.1016/j.semarthrit.2016.08.012.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Fibromyalgia.

  4. Washington University Medicine. Fibromyalgia.

  5. American College of Rheumatology. Fibromyalgia.

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