What is Fibromyalgia and What Does it Feel Like?

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According to the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), over 12 million Americans have fibromyalgia, many of whom are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. This is due in great part to the broad and patient-specific symptoms exhibited by this complex chronic condition.

To better understand and appreciate the impact of fibromyalgia, it is essential that we become familiar with the basic qualities of fibromyalgia, its common symptoms, and how such symptoms manifest themselves in unique ways.

The Fibromyalgia Break Down

Fibromyalgia, like most chronic conditions, is multifactorial and is influenced by a wide range of elements. However, the primary source of fibromyalgia is the hypothalamus.

The primary responsibility of the hypothalamus is regulation of various hormones and the nervous system. Because of the significant influence it has over hormone function, and by extension numerous important systems, disruption of the hypothalamus can result in widespread bodily dysfunction. Various factors including malfunctioning mitochondria and hormonal deficiencies can contribute to the hypothalamic disruption and the development of fibromyalgia.

All cells in the body rely on mitochondria to provide the energy needed to function properly. The hypothalamus is particularly sensitive to mitochondrial disruption, which often results in sluggishness and inhibited hormone regulation. Various factors including hormone imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, and infections can all harm mitochondria resulting in hypothalamic disruption and potentially fibromyalgia.

Learn more about mitochondrial disease here.

Hormonal deficiencies may also prompt hypothalamic dysfunction resulting in fibromyalgia. The most common hormonal deficiencies leading to fibromyalgia are cortisol and thyroid hormones. However, deficiencies in the following hormones can also contribute to fibromyalgia:

  • Aldosterone
  • DHEA
  • Estradiol
  • Human growth hormone
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone

Seeing the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia presents numerous symptoms that range from odd sensation to debilitating pain. Symptoms of fibromyalgia are frequently misattributed to other conditions making diagnosis and treatment inconsistent.

Some of the most common and misdiagnosed symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Cognitive difficulties and brain fog
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Digestive issues including IBS
  • Exhaustion after minor exertion
  • Fatigue not improved through rest or sleep
  • Flu-like sensations
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and joint pain or weakness
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Sleep disruptions and sleep apnea
  • Sore throat
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Weight gain

The severity and duration of these symptoms depends on individual patient factors. Therefore, patient experience is highly individualized. While one person may experience some or all of these symptoms, another may only develop a few symptoms at high or low intensity. Furthermore, symptom occurrence and severity can change on a daily basis making fibromyalgia incredibly confusing a frustrating. A fibromyalgia patient may be bedridden one day and able to move the next day. The inconsistency of fibromyalgia makes the patient experience exceptionally difficult because they cannot prepare for their condition. This causes every day to be a new challenge that must be handled on the fly.

Singling Out Fibromyalgia

Because of the large spectrum of symptoms and unique nature of fibromyalgia it can be difficult for an individual to identify it for themselves. Diagnosing fibromyalgia is typically done through assessing the symptoms listed above. However, these do little to describe the unique sensations felt by those with fibromyalgia. Most fibromyalgia patients experience a broad spectrum of strange symptoms that do not fall into the vague indicators of fibromyalgia such as pain, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction.

The following descriptors of the unique and unexpected symptoms experienced by those with fibromyalgia will hopefully help individuals recognize their own fibromyalgia related experiences.

  • An overactive nervous system is a common secondary system that causes fibromyalgia patients to react poorly to certain events. Loud noises, physical contact, flashing lights, strong smells, and others can events a variety of symptoms throughout the body.
  • A constant burning or tingling sensation reminiscent of the feeling of blood returning to a limb that had fallen asleep. One may also experience burning similar to a bad sunburn on all or part of their body. This feeling can remain throughout the entire day and is typically not aided through balms, lotions, or other topical treatments.
  • Tenderness throughout the body that could be described as waking up the morning after being thoroughly beaten up. This has been described as feeling like the entire body is bruised without any physical indicator or discoloration. In addition to widespread tenderness, there are specific regions, including the back of the head, elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips, that typically exhibit soreness in the presence of fibromyalgia.
  • Sharp, sporadic, and sudden pains that quickly shoot through various parts of the body without any obvious trigger. Some may experience such pain at locations where the body is lightly constricted. Even the slightest pressure on the skin, such as a bed sheet brushing along the skin, can cause sudden intense pain at the area of contact. Clothing such as a belt, bra strap, or bathrobe are common triggers of fibromyalgia related pain.
  • According to the American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, most fibromyalgia patients, between 50 and 70 percent, experience headaches. Migraines being the most common. This can cause sensations of throbbing in the head and nausea, which may result in vomiting. Migraines may also cause great sensitivity to other stimuli such as light. The occurrence of a migraine and the hypersensitivity that comes with it can leave a person debilitated for hours.

Identifying Fibromyalgia

Clearly fibromyalgia is a complicated disorder that requires significant attention to detail and understanding to properly identify. Unfortunately, because of its broad impact on the body, doctors and patients alike are often uncertain of the cause their symptoms. Observing or recording daily experiences and unique forms of dysfunction can help you better identify the presence of fibromyalgia.

Hopefully, with a better understanding of this disorder and its many symptoms, patients and doctors will be better equipped to identify the complex and confusing chronic condition that is fibromyalgia.


1. What Does Fibromyalgia Feel Like? VeryWell. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-does-fibromyalgia-feel-like-715813

2. Why Fibromyalgia Pain Feels Different. Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/sanjay-gupta/why-fibromyalgia-pain-feels-different.aspx

3. What Do Fibromyalgia Symptoms Look Like? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/pictures-fibromyalgia-symptoms

4. 22 Metaphors That Describe What Fibromyalgia Feels Like. The Mighty. https://themighty.com/2017/06/metaphors-what-fibromyalgia-feels-like/

About Holtorf Medical Group

The Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease.

We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.