Between 11 million and 15 million Americans are estimated suffer from the painful muscle condition fibromyalgia, which can cause stiffness, fatigue, numbness in the extremities, memory difficulties, stress, and sleep problems. Most people with the illness are women; this is believed to be because testosterone partly counteracts the mechanism by which fibromyalgia develops.
That mechanism isn’t fully understood, but it seems to involve the brain structures that are responsible for pain signals. The brain of a fibromyalgia patient is unusually sensitive to pain and amplifies it, meaning bumps and strains that might not even be noticed by most people are very painful for people with fibromyalgia. This would explain the specific symptom of pain when touched—the sensation of microinjury that would normally be brushed off is heightened because the nerve signal is amplified.
In addition, around half of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia were found to have signs of the type of nerve damage associated with a condition called small-fiber peripheral neuropathy, which affects the nerve endings at the surface of the skin. Small-fiber neuropathy often causes the sensitivity that is characteristic of fibromyalgia. The neuropathy is much better understood than fibromyalgia, and the finding suggests treatments for small-fiber neuropathy might help alleviate fibromyalgia symptoms as well. Current treatment regimens involve non-opioid painkillers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Yoga, exercise, and a regular sleep schedule are also recommended, Antidepressants seem to have a positive effect as well; some of the brain structures involved in emotional pain may be involved in physical pain as well.
May people with fibromyalgia report that weather conditions exacerbate their symptoms, but a study in the Netherlands found no link between fibromyalgia symptoms and precipitation, cloudiness, or temperature. Patients in the study recorded pain and fatigue levels over the course of a month, and researchers looked at weather reports for those days and found no consistent correlation.