One of the most characteristic symptoms of fibromyalgia is “widespread musculoskeletal pain” – but if you live with the condition, you know the pain can be so much more complex than it sounds. Fibro pain can manifest in a wide variety of ways (burning, aching, stabbing) and affect just about any part of the body.
In a recent essay published on The Mighty, contributor Jo Moss described 18 different types of fibromyalgia pain she experiences and how each affects her. Her breakdown of pain as something that is complex and multifaceted was highly relatable for many in our community. We wanted to keep this discussion going and help others better understand the realities of chronic pain, so we rounded up 14 memes that nail what various types of pain feel like, based on our community’s descriptions of fibro pain they experience. If any of the following sound familiar, know you are not alone.
1. Burning Skin Pain
“Burning skin. Sometimes my skin feels like it’s on fire, it feels raw. Imagine spending hours in the hot sun without any skin protection. Then you take a dip in the sea and the salt water burns your damaged skin. Then you get dressed for a night out and your clothes rub against your skin raw. When you have fibromyalgia, clothing alone can cause this pain, no sunlight is required.” – Jo M.
“The pain on my shoulders and skin where I can’t even let my husband gently rub them in affection because it hurts too much… or hug me because it feels like my body is going to break. It’s like having the worst case of sunburn imaginable on my skin. The physical isolation from touch is horrible.” – Rachel M.
“My arms and legs feel like they’re on fire. Like I have the worst sunburn in the world. Where even the ceiling fan on low feels like fire is engulfing me. And nothing provides relief.” – Amber G.S.
2. Chest/Rib Pain
“Costochrondritis – intense, smothering pain in the rib cage. The first time it happens, you’re sure you’re dying and end up in the ER. After awhile you realize it’s just your ‘normal’… how screwed up is that. Oh, and there’s really no meds that help. You mostly just have to ride out the flare-ups.” – Kirsten E.B.
“I get chest wall pain that’s worst in my lower ribs. It’s like a runner stitch or when you’re pregnant and the baby wedges their foot up under your ribs. There’s no stretching or breathing that helps ease the pain.” – Krista I.
3. Electric Shock-Like Pain
“Like sticking your finger in an open electrical socket. Tingly and pin-prickly. Like white noise but a feeling, not a sound. It starts in my fingertips and spreads through my whole nervous system.” – Corlissa J.
“It feels like electricity in my nerves. Like I’m [on] fire or being shocked. Then my back stiffens and then I can’t stretch or move without feeling like my lungs constrict and not let me breathe. My hips, legs, back, neck and right elbow don’t allow me to sleep throughout the night as it just is always shooting down pain. It’s really hard to cope with some days. Today being one of those days.” – Erin A.
4. Muscle Tightness
“My neck gets so tight it feels like a giant fist is squeezing, twisting and pulling it. The pain this causes gives me migraines and locks my neck and shoulders up so tight that even the smallest movement is excruciating.” – Jennifer N.H.
5. Aching, Throbbing Pain
“Today, I feel like I have the flu. Entire body aches, every muscle, every joint, and I’m exhausted from that alone. I’ve been on the couch with an electric blanket and heating pads all day.” – Sharaya L.
“A very deep ache that starts in my shoulders and arms and then into my hips, legs and feet. It’s such a deep ache, it feels like it’s beyond muscle and into my bones. My joints will throb and my hands will become puffy, as will my feet. To the point that it hurts too much to walk or grasp anything. Sitting or laying down does not make it ‘feel any better.’ Nothing helps, not soaking in a hot magnesium bath, being wrapped in an electric blanket, or medication.” – Tiffany M.
“A dull constant ache over my whole body… absolutely nothing relieves it.” – Bay H.
6. Bruise-Like Pain
“Bruised. My body feels like I have dozens of bruises all over, but there aren’t any visible on the skin. It’s days like those that even holding or hugging my babies makes me cry or simply having clothes or blankets brush against your body make you wince because it hurts so much.” – Amy D.
“Feels like permanent bruising where even the slightest touch is [debilitating]! Even down to the wind blowing, it’s like someone has a million needles sticking them in you!” – Emma T.
“Bone deep aching that feels like my bones are constantly bruised and never heal.” – Lori A.
“One of the types I get is a stiffness followed by extreme ache/throbbing in my knees especially. Sometimes in my hips when I first wake up as well. This is especially bad after sitting for awhile. For instance, the other night I was at a meeting and had my legs crossed. When I uncrossed them, I felt like my knee was locked in place. Then, when I finally was able to move it again it was an intense ache that radiated all over my knee, throbbing. That’s the best I can describe it.” – Shelby C.
“Lower back pain and stiffness that renders me almost immobile, compounded by occasional burning on the soles of my feet.” – Bernie L.
“Stiff joints that hurt every time I move.” – Kirst F.
8. Needle-Like Nerve Pain
“Needle stabbing pain. Some people call it the voodoo doll. It’s a sudden stab like someone injecting you, it comes on suddenly and can be anywhere. Usually my chest or legs. It really feels like someone is sticking a hyperdermic needle into me.” – Carrie B.
“The hot needle into various spots of my body and the electrical charge from my upper back/neck shooting up into my head are the two worst ones lately.” – Sarah N.
“Nerve pain like glass needles coming out of your bones.” – Daniel P.
“The ‘fire/cramping’ pain I get in my shoulders on either side of my neck. They’re two very distinct spots that cramp and ache but also feel like they’re on fire. Nothing seems to relieve them and I usually get them when I’m working and sitting at my desk. I try to massage the area myself but it doesn’t go away until I can completely relax – which sometimes doesn’t happen at all.” – Melissa M.
“I explain it to my friends like this: it feels like you ran an Ironman marathon the day before with no training or prep and then passed out right after without food or water. The muscle cramps are almost unbearable but you wake up and move because if not it gets worse.” – Shannon C.
10. The Sensation of Bones Cracking or Grinding
“Foot pain, like my bones are all breaking and moving over each other. This is how it feels when my feet swell and I try to put shoes on that aren’t wide enough.” – Carrie B.
“Aching and cracking in joints, especially jaw, neck, back, hips and ankles. Like bone grinding against bone. Always worse in cold or hot humid weather…” – Julie M.
11. Allodynia (Sensitivity to Touch)
“When the water from my shower feels like nails being pounded into my body, I can barely breathe.” – Ashley C.
“Allodynia. This is one of the types of pain I feel during a flare-up, when even a light brush of the skin can hurt.” – Kristin S.
12. Trigger Points
“There’s the sharp, deep, holy @#$^% pain when someone hugs me or rubs my arm and accidentally hits one of my tender points. There’s about two to three seconds there when I’m so stunned by the pain, I can’t talk or move.” – Naomi B.
13. Stabbing Pain
“I would describe my pain as stabbing, throbbing, shooting. It feels like I’m having the muscles torn out of my neck with a hot knife. There is no escape from that pain when I’m not in a flare of the pain in my calf and back – it’s a constant aching pain. I just become used to it, it’s just background music. I have to distract myself.” – Kristopher T.
“Deep, stabbing pain in joints. Nothing helps and I can barely walk some days.” – Mackenzie P.
“Feels like the pokey things at the top of a fence stabbing my legs and my arm and back.” – Renay G.
14. Itchy, Tingling Pain
“Itchy, numb tingle.” – Kelly D.W.
“Have you ever had a heat rash after spending too long in the sun? That’s what it feels like. Sore, burning and itchy.” – Jo M.