Numbness and Tingling in Fibromyalgia Syndrome
Fibromyalgia syndrome is most commonly associated with widespread pain, but its symptoms can also include numbness and tingling, particularly in feet, legs, arms, hands and face. This is called paresthaesia, and is seen in around one in four people with the syndrome.
What Causes Numbness and Tingling in Fibromyalgia Syndrome?It’s not completely clear what causes numbness and tingling in people with fibromyalgia syndrome. One cause behind it may be the muscle spasms and muscle stiffness that are common with the disorder. These can lead to the tingling and numbness because the tense muscles press on and irritate the nerves.
Around 40% people with fibromyalgia syndrome have cold-induced vasospasm. Blood vessels normally constrict a certain amount when it’s cold, to direct the blood away from the skin and keep the inner organs warm, but in cold-induced vasospasm, the blood vessels in the extremities go into spasm and close up completely. This stops blood going to the fingers and toes (and sometimes even the end of the nose and the earlobes), so they tingle, and then become white, cold and numb. As the areas warm up and the blood starts moving again, they can begin to tingle once more, and become red. This stage can become very painful.
Cold-induced vasospasm is uncomfortable and unpleasant, and looks quite distressing, but usually doesn’t cause any long-term harm. However, if it happens often or for prolonged periods, a few people find that they develop ulcers on the tips of the fingers and toes because of the lack of blood supply.
What to Do for Muscle Spasms?If the numbness and tingling is caused by muscle spasm or muscle stiffness, try gentle stretching, heat or ice to release and ease the muscle. Regular light exercise can also help to keep muscles flexible and so may reduce future attacks of numbness and tingling.
If the numbness and tingling is triggered by a sitting, standing or lying in a particular position, try to find an alternative position, and change position regularly. For example, if sitting at a desk typing triggers it off, make sure that the desk and chair are set up correctly, and try to alternate different types of work. Remember to take regular breaks to move around and stretch, which will ease the muscles.
What to Do for Cold-Induced Vasospasm?If the numbness and tingling is caused by cold-induced vasospasm, avoid getting too cold by wearing layers, perhaps with silk or cotton gloves and socks under heavier woollen mittens and socks. Sudden changes in temperature, even on not particularly cold days, can trigger the vasospasm, so tuck spare gloves in bags and coat pockets, and keep a pair of gloves in the car glove box or in the desk drawer.
Shaking the hands can get the blood flowing back to the tips of the fingers. Hand warmers that produce heat as part of a chemical reaction can also help, as can taking medications that dilate (open up) the blood vessels.
If numbness and tingling is a new symptom, it’s important to see a doctor, because it could be a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome or multiple sclerosis, or hypoglycaemia or peripheral neuropathy in diabetes.