Fibromyalgia & Itching: Symptoms, Causes, & Relief Strategies
Fibromyalgia & Itching: Symptoms, Causes, & Relief Strategies
Living with fibromyalgia (FM) means facing a unique set of symptoms that vary from person to person.
This condition, affecting people of all ages and genders, often includes constant muscle pain, weakness, and fatigue, alongside other types of widespread pain that can't easily be explained.
A particularly challenging symptom that some people face is chronic itching. This goes beyond typical itchiness; it's often intense and enduring, adding another layer to the complexity of living with fibro.
While scratching might seem like a natural reaction, it can unfortunately make the situation worse by increasing skin sensitivity and perceived pain. Instead, managing this itch effectively usually requires a thoughtful combination of treatments. This might include medications such as antidepressants like Cymbalta or antiseizure drugs like Lyrica, which are known to provide relief for both the itching and the pain.
In this guide, we delve into the sensations of fibromyalgia-related itch, its causes, and how you can work alongside your healthcare provider to find relief. Our aim is to help enhance your comfort and improve your quality of life as you navigate this aspect of fibromyalgia.
What does fibromyalgia itching feel like?
If you have a fibro itch, you’ll know that it’s far from ordinary. It's an intense, persistent sensation that might feel like the itch and sting of sunburn, or akin to enduring numerous mosquito bites all over your body, and scratching often makes it worse.
It's a symptom that goes beyond skin deep, and might signal that a flare-up of fibromyalgia symptoms is on the way.
Itching in fibromyalgia can vary in location and occurrence and type of sensation:
- Stinging sensation: You might feel a stinging or burning sensation, much like a harsh sunburn.
- Crawling feeling: It might feel as if tiny insects are moving across your skin, creating discomfort.
- Sharp itchiness: Sometimes, the itch can be sharp and piercing, and you might also experience numbness in the area.
Itching can happen all over the body, including common places such as the scalp, back, arms, or more localized regions. Sometimes it’ll be intermittent and at other times, constant. Some people also experience hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, along with their itching episodes.
Fibromyalgia itching at night
For many people, fibro itching mostly occurs at night and often interferes with their sleep. The sensation of itchiness at night is often described as severe, prickling or burning in nature, similar to sunburn.
This sleep disturbance may also worsen symptoms such as the widespread pain, fatigue and stress, which in turn impact sleep further, ultimately impacting overall quality of life.
Fibromyalgia itching on the scalp
An itchy scalp can feel like a relentless barrage of prickly sensations or as if a swarm of invisible insects are marching across your head. Yuck! Whether it’s a tingling annoyance, or very intense, because it usually resists the usual relief that scratching provides it can become a source of constant irritation.
Fibromyalgia itching of the legs
Itching on the legs can feel like a persistent prickling sensation, as if the skin is being lightly touched by thorns or nettles, causing discomfort that is not relieved by scratching.
Causes of fibromyalgia itching
Unlike ordinary itching that might be caused by skin conditions or something external, the itching in fibromyalgia arises from the condition's impact on your nervous system. This is the phenomenon of central sensitization1.
Central sensitization happens when your central nervous system is stuck on overdrive. This alters the way that it processes sensory input, such as touch, and amplifies nerve responses to stimuli that wouldn't typically cause discomfort.
This means that you can have intense itching, pain and all the other fibro symptoms, but without having any underlying physical damage.
This heightened nerve sensitivity is thought to underpin not only fibromyalgia but also chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
The itching in fibromyalgia specifically involves a type of receptor in the body called "silent nociceptors." Many of our receptors react to direct stimuli, such as touch, pressure or heat. However, silent nociceptors are activated primarily in response to inflammation or tissue damage. Studies have shown that these receptors are unusually active in fibromyalgia – even if there is no tissue damage – leading to the characteristic itching sensation2.
In addition to central sensitization and an overactive stress response system (that controls our fight, flight or freeze responses), for some people a constant itch can also indicate other underlying causes. These might include imbalances in neurotransmitters, inflammatory responses, or nerve injury in the central or peripheral nervous systems, which causes what is known as neuropathic itch. Certain medications can also cause itching as a side effect, so always chat with your doctor to rule out underlying causes.
Knowledge is power
Home remedies to help soothe itchy skin from fibromyalgia
You know the saying, prevention is better than a cure. So to reduce the chance of itchy skin, embrace the following:
- Fragrance-free choices: Select skincare products without perfumes, as these can dry and irritate sensitive skin. Natural bath oils, especially those containing oats, can offer gentle relief.
- Trimmed nails for gentle touch: Try to resist the urge to scratch, and keep your nails short and smooth to minimize skin damage when you do scratch.
- Lukewarm baths for comfort: Favor lukewarm baths over hot water, perhaps with calming additives like colloidal oatmeal, to avoid skin dryness.
- Creating a cozy environment: Dress in soft, loose clothing, use natural fiber bedding and keep your living space cool and humidified for skin comfort.
- Gentle physical activity: Engage in low-intensity exercises like yoga or swimming to boost mood, reduce stress, and release endorphins, all of which can help reduce itching and the distress that it can cause.
- Prioritize restful sleep: Being tired can increase itching so establish a regular sleep schedule with a peaceful bedroom environment, and avoid stimulating activities before bed.
- Nourishing moisturization: Keep your skin hydrated, particularly after a bath or shower, to lock in moisture and form a barrier against irritants that might aggravate the itch.
- Stress reduction techniques: Relaxation practices, such as meditation, light exercises, or connecting with friends or fibromyalgia support groups, can offer comfort and shared understanding. This can help to reduce the distress that itching causes, and calm your nervous system to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
There are also several comforting home remedies you can embrace for relief, particularly as alternatives to scratching:
- Apply cool moisturizers: You can keep moisturizers in the fridge for an extra soothing and itch-reducing feel.
- Apply a cool compress: A cold, damp cloth or a wrapped ice pack to itchy areas for immediate, soothing relief.
- Use over-the-counter soothing creams or anti-itch lotions.
- Wear gloves: Wearing soft cotton gloves, particularly at night, can prevent unconscious scratching.
More treatment options for fibromyalgia itching
At MoreGoodDays, we address fibromyalgia itching through a multidisciplinary and holistic approach, grounded in the latest scientific understanding of nociplastic pain and central sensitization.
We know that fibromyalgia symptoms result from a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors. Our biopsychosocial strategy goes beyond just medication to provide a more comprehensive treatment.
Key elements of our multidisciplinary approach:
- Holistic understanding: Learning about the nature of pain is the first step, as it enhances understanding, hope, and motivation, reducing fear and improving the ability to manage pain.
- Identifying personal triggers: Recognizing individual triggers to help break the cycle of pain, anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness, effectively preventing or mitigating flare-ups.
- Retraining the pain system: Based in the science of neuroplasticity, we focus on activities and techniques to calm and retrain your nervous system, which can reduce your pain and other symptoms.
- Integrating various skills: Our approach includes pain neuroscience education, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, stress management, pacing for fatigue, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications including nutrition and social interaction management.
- Personalized support: MoreGoodDays provides tailored support from professional coaches and clinicians, helping individuals adapt these strategies to their unique circumstances.
Along with home remedies and our multidisciplinary approach, many people find that medications that tackle other fibromyalgia symptoms can also help manage persistent itching.
Anesthetic creams work to treat fibromyalgia itching by numbing the skin. These creams contain active ingredients such as lidocaine or prilocaine, which block nerve signals in the skin, reducing the sensation of itch.
Over-the-counter anti-itch creams containing hydrocortisone can help relieve the discomfort of fibromyalgia-related itchiness.
When to see a healthcare provider
In general, any new symptoms should be brought to your doctor as soon as possible.
If the itching associated with fibromyalgia becomes persistent and severe, or interferes with your daily activities or sleep, it's especially important to consult with your healthcare provider. They can help identify the cause of the itching, rule out other potential conditions, and recommend appropriate treatment options. They may also adjust any current fibromyalgia medications that could be contributing to the itch or suggest alternative therapies to better manage your symptoms.