Have you ever tried resting in bed, but the sheets are somehow painful enough to keep you awake? Have you ever been outside on a warm day only to have a cool breeze or gust of wind hurt your body all over? Or how about this one: has the elastic on your sleeves, pants, or socks bothered you so badly that you just had change clothes or go naked for a bit? If you’re reading this and don’t have fibromyalgia, these scenarios may sound absurd. But the struggle is real, folks, and it’s called allodynia. Allodynia and fibromyalgia often go together. For example, I’ve literally had to get up in the middle of the night a few times in life just to shave my legs because the irritation and pain from my pajamas or sheets touching the hair was keeping me awake. So I’ve been shaving every day of my life for years now just to avoid that sensation.
The best way I have found to help people understand what I’m dealing with is to say, “Think about the most sensitive places on your body. It could be your lips, fingertips, tongue, or whatever. Now imagine that your whole body and even your muscles are made from the same nerves that are found in those places. Then think about how it would feel if it was overly stimulated all the time. That’s a lot like what I experience when the wind blows and even sometimes when I’m gently touched by my partner or pet.”
Just What is Allodynia?
Researchers at the UK-based Cardiff University explain that “neuropathic pain is caused by damage to- or dysfunction of- the peripheral and central nervous system, rather than stimulation of pain receptors.” If you’ve done any reading at all about fibromyalgia, then these are ideas you should definitely be familiar with. In fact, they add that “neuropathic pain commonly results in ‘spontaneous’ pains. Some of these sensations appear to have a ‘life of their own’ and are bizarre.” Bizarre and spontaneous sensations and pains? Sounds like an average day when you’re dealing with fibromyalgia, doesn’t it? Well, allodynia is one of those spontaneous pains.
You see, allodynia falls into a category of “evoked pains” which are “usually exaggerated responses to innocuous events that do not cause pain in people with ‘normal’ pain pathways.” Ok, now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we? This explains why those without fibro usually have no concept of what this is like. Allodynia is specifically pain that comes from simple contact which isn’t usually painful. Like blowing wind, unshaven legs, and sheets touching your skin.
Kinds of Allodynia
There are three forms of allodynia. First is touch or tactile, meaning the pain that comes from the touch of, for example, clothing against the skin. Second is mechanical allodynia which is caused by movement across the skin from things like towels used for drying off, the brushing of bed sheets, and yes, even the wind. Lastly is thermal or temperature-related allodynia. That’s referring to hot or cold temperatures that are not extreme enough to damage your tissues. Indeed, the temperature may be rather. But with allodynia, it feels extreme so we might refer to it as temperature sensitivity.
You can actually have just one form or any combination of allodynia, and even all three. As you can see from the personal examples I shared, I obviously have the first two kinds. The third is hit or miss for me, but it’s definitely a problem. And your fibro experience may be similar to mine or very different. Nevertheless, allodynia and fibromyalgia go hand-in-hand as should be evident by now.
Treating Allodynia and Fibromyalgia
Allodynia is a type of pain commonly associated with fibromyalgia. It can be really difficult for non-fibro people to understand. And unfortunately, like fibromyalgia, allodynia cannot be cured. Rather, they must be managed. One treatment often recommended to help the muscular pain associated with fibro is massage. However, I have to use this method sparingly and in short bursts. My allodynia keeps me from enjoying a massage for longer than 45 minutes, if I’m lucky. So be mindful that massage therapy can make it worse, but it also helps to simply know your limitations and tell the therapist when you’ve had enough.
Some fibro patients get allodynia pain relief from topical creams like Tiger Balm, Aspercreme, Lidocaine, or BioFreeze. Certain drugs used for moderate treatment of pain have helped some fibro patients deal with their allodynia as well. Medications such as Tramadol, Lyrica, and Gabapentin are effective for treating a number of symptoms, including the pain from allodynia and fibromyalgia.
Have you found a particular treatment, method, or remedy for allodynia and fibromyalgia that works for you? Please share it with us because every little bit helps in this community!