By: Dr Alex Robber
We’ve all had the sensation of “pins and needles” after your leg has “fallen asleep.” Or maybe you’ve been awakened to an entirely numb arm in the middle of the night, only to have it beginning to tingle like crazy after you’ve been clumsily readjusting. These are the more common types of a disorder called paresthesia which can also be linked by everyone. These are however very mild compared to the other sensations that one might encounter.
For example, you could feel burning sensations all over the body at random. Or like me, a burning skin patch on your leg or arm with no apparent cause, or even visible sign of a problem. You may also have to experience occasional scratching, or a sensation on your skin like something is crawling.
Paresthesia is a relatively common symptom of fibromyalgia, to make matters worse. Even if it wasn’t hard enough or stressful enough to deal with all the other debilitating fibro symptoms, paresthesia is thrown into the mix too.
Paresthesia’s in Fibromyalgia
Paresthesia’s are both associated with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, including the painful form. These can be of any severity, and over time become painful. We don’t have any real research on paresthesia’s in chronic fatigue syndrome but several anecdotal reports.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, as in fibromyalgia, and can show up just about anywhere. In fibromyalgia, studies as well as anecdotal accounts from the people with the disease clearly establish this symptom. A 2009 study has suggested that people with fibromyalgia who also smoke cigarettes tend to experience more extreme paresthesia pain.
(This is just one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia that can worsen smoking.) Quitting smoking can help relieve pain, as well as other symptoms related to smoking. A study conducted in 2012 indicates that carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is more severe in fibromyalgia individuals than in the general population. CTS is a painful, often debilitating condition involving nerve squeezing and/or wrist swelling.
It is particularly common in people who spend a lot of time on the computer or playing video games, and in the grocery store checkers. The researchers who found this connection cautioned that CTS may be difficult to spot in people with fibromyalgia, since paresthesia can misinterpret the pain. You may want to ask your doctor to check for CTS if you have pain in your hands, particularly nerve pain or nerve “zings” and especially if they get bad when you’re asleep or trying to sleep. Untreated left, it could get much worse over time.
Fibromyalgia referred to as a disease that affects the central nervous system
Hearing fibromyalgia referred to as a condition affecting the central nervous system is quite common. One of the worst characteristics of fibro is that its relation to the nervous system ensures the pain that passes through the body is amplified.
This is a significant fact, as the National Neurological Disorders and Stroke Institute (NINDS) states that paresthesia is typically painless. I figured at first that was a terribly misleading thing to say. But then I asked a friend who has no fibromyalgia or aversion to pain of any kind. The tingling sensation we all get, she confirmed, does not hurt at all.
I was shocked to hear that because I assumed that everyone felt the feeling with a major, although brief, degree of pain. So, this made me wonder what paresthesia is exactly and how can it be treated?
Causes of Paresthesia’s
Paresthesia is most commonly caused by damage to peripheral nerves (those in the arms and legs) or strain on those nerves, which may result from inflammation or injury. Chemotherapy drugs can cause them too. Most of the time, however, the cause is unknown, one theory in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome is that they are the result of generally increased nerve sensitivity as well as an intensified response to pain in the brain.
Nonetheless, there are more possibilities arising with further study. Another more recent line of inquiry includes damage to the delicate nerve fibers (peripheral nerves) in your skin, organs, and the nerves of your arms and legs. Their role is to give your skin sensation like when you touch something, and to regulate the work of your autonomous nervous system. That includes all the things that are automatic, including controlling heart rate, breathing and body temperature. Such nerves are called peripheral neuropathy.
Some signs of fibromyalgia can often overlap with chronic paresthesia, which can sometimes make diagnosis difficult. There are distinct signs, however, such as:
- Crawling feeling on the skin
- Sensitive to the touch
- Burning sensation on the skin, particularly on the extremities
- Itchy skin on an area of the body
- Pain in a certain area of the body
- Numbness in the extremities or other areas of the body
The single largest fibromyalgia related problem is our failure to treat it. The only option is to try to treat the symptoms. Luckily paresthesia is usually a symptom that can be treated once the cause has been identified. However, if the source is the fibro itself, you might run into problems.
However, the NINDS states that the prognosis “depends on the nature of the symptoms and the related disorders.” Tests such as MRI, X-ray, or blood tests also include identifying the source. Whether or not you have fibromyalgia, whether it is linked to nerve damage, tumor near the spinal cord or brain, undiscovered mini-strokes and more it is important to seek diagnosis and treatment for it.
Paresthesia can go away on its own, after identifying the source and probably treating the source. Some recovery choices may include exercise, massage, anti-inflammatory drugs, or even stronger medications.
- 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.
- Liptan, GL. Fascia: A missing link in our understanding of the pathology of fibromyalgia. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2010 Jan;14(1):3-12.
- Nacir B, Genc H, Duyur Cakit B, et al. Evaluation of upper extremity nerve conduction velocities and the relationship between fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome.Archives of medical research. 2012 Jul;43(5):369-74.
- Pamuk ON, Donmez S, Cakir N. The frequency of smoking in fibromyalgia patients and its association with symptoms. Rheumatology international. 2009 Sep;29(11):1311-4.
- Uceyler N, et al. Brain. 2013 Jun;136(Pt 6):1857-67. Small fibre pathology in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome.
- Odd Nerve Sensations in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by Adrienne Dellwo via Verywell Health