Leg Pain And Fibromyalgia – The Connection
Fibromyalgia’s defining characteristic is widespread pain, including leg pain. Leg pain and fibromyalgia may vary from person to person, but can present as sharp pain, a dull ache, deep pain, or more of an aching sensation.
Leg pain and fibromyalgia connections
Leg pain related to fibromyalgia may develop in the tendons, muscles, or ligaments surrounding the joints. Although the pain manifests in these areas, the sensations are amplified by problems in pain processing by the nervous system, according to the American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association.
Other symptoms causing leg pain related to fibromyalgia include restless leg syndrome and numbness or tingling in the extremities. Fibromyalgia affects anywhere from 2% to 4% of U.S. adults, most of them women.
Fibromyalgia is not very well understood, and no cure exists although its symptoms can be managed using a variety of traditional and alternative therapies, along with lifestyle changes.
Restless leg syndrome
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop restless leg syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by throbbing or other difficult-to-manage sensations that create an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. The sensations typically worsen at night and dissipate by morning. They can occur in 1 or both legs.
By moving their legs, people with restless leg syndrome can find relief from the pain and other unpleasant feelings. However, lying down also tends to aggravate the leg sensations, making it difficult to sleep, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Researchers found that 33% of study participants with fibromyalgia also had restless leg syndrome while only 3% of those without fibromyalgia had the syndrome.
Disturbed sleep marks another common symptom of fibromyalgia, and researchers said many people with fibromyalgia can attribute the disruption to restless leg syndrome.
Most treatments of restless leg syndrome are directed at alleviating the symptoms, according to NINDS. Lifestyle changes that may alleviate restless leg syndrome related to fibromyalgia may include limiting caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol intake. Taking supplements such as iron, magnesium, and folate may also help reduce leg pain related to fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome.
Exercise, adopting a regular pattern of sleep, and heating pads may also help reduce pain.
Neuropathy causes tingling or pain in the extremities, including the feet. Some patients with fibromyalgia may actually have a related disorder known as small-fiber polyneuropathy (SFPN), according to a study presented at a meeting of the American Neurological Association.
Researchers found 46% of patients with fibromyalgia had SFPN, which is a type of peripheral neuropathy that is sometimes treatable.
“This provides some of the first objective evidence of a mechanism behind some cases of fibromyalgia, and identifying an underlying cause is the first step towards finding better treatments,” says Anne Louise Oaklander, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and study author.
SFPN causes widespread pain, similar to fibromyalgia, but has tests that can offer a definitive diagnosis, which is not the case with fibromyalgia.
People with fibromyalgia frequently develop tender pain points, also known as trigger points, that are found in the legs. Each person has 9 pairs of points on the body that may result in pain when pressed, according to WebMD. On the leg, tender points may develop on the inside of each knee and on the hip just behind the hipbone.
A clear fibromyalgia diagnosis results when a person experiences pain at a minimum of 11 tender pain points, although in practice, that number is sometimes less, according to WebMD. Leg pain related to fibromyalgia may result when trigger points cause pain in the area.
Leg pain and fibromyalgia treatment
Treatment for leg pain and fibromyalgia typically requires a comprehensive approach, with a mix of medicines and lifestyle changes designed to reduce pain and improve quality of life.
Medicines recommended for fibromyalgia include painkillers such as Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil. NSAIDs work by reducing fibromyalgia-related inflammation and alleviating aches and pains. However, long-term use of painkillers may cause physical side effects such as fluid retention, high blood pressure, and problems with the stomach, kidney, or heart.
Narcotics are sometimes prescribed, but there isn’t any evidence that the drugs mitigate leg pain related to fibromyalgia, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Additionally, narcotics carry significant risks of addiction and abuse.
Lifestyle changes are 1 of the best ways people with leg pain and fibromyalgia can manage pain. Managing issues such as restless leg syndrome are critical for ensuring quality sleep.
Ways to encourage restful sleep include establishing a regular sleep schedule, exercising early in the day, and keeping the bed for sleeping only. Browsing the Internet or reading a book in bed can keep the brain awake and make it difficult to sleep. Creating a relaxing pre-bedtime routine can also help you fall asleep. Taking a bath or listening to relaxing music helps the day fade into the background and the mind unwind.
Making sure to get enough exercise is another important lifestyle factor, possibly the most important for managing leg pain and fibromyalgia, according to NIAMS. Fighting through the pain and fatigue to get the heart pumping, taking a walk, or riding a bike can support good sleep and also alleviate pain.
Since fibromyalgia has an inflammatory component, eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce symptoms. Many people with fibromyalgia have food sensitivities, whether with gluten, dairy, eggs, or preservatives, according to WebMD. Keeping a food journal to identify any foods that trigger leg pain can help manage the symptoms.
To make cooking with healthy food easier, purchase fruits and vegetables that are already chopped or washed. Buying prepared foods from a natural or health foods store can also be an alternative to cooking. Take care to read ingredient lists because sometimes prepared foods have potentially pain-causing ingredients even if they’re touted as healthy.
Cooking with herbs including the potent anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant spices ginger and turmeric may also help reduce leg pain related to fibromyalgia.