Fibromyalgia: Leg/Foot Pain-Neuropathy?

“What you resist, persists”, C.G.Yung

I have brought on another pain attack- again! I have overdone it with social situations that have caused anxiety and resulted in overstimulation! This time the pain in my left foot is excruciating. The reason? I wore something other than the sneakers that are my daily companions. No, I did not wear high heels, but nonetheless they were not my regular footwear. There are many times I think I have to wear something on my feet that are a bit more dressy. Yet, I am now known to wear funky sneakers to most places, so why do I conform and wear ‘regular’ shoes when I know my body will rebel? Given that my muscles (like all of us with fibromyalgia) have become weakened over the years because of my inability to sustain regular exercise, I have found that supportive shoes are the best answer to stability. For that reason I have recently chosen to brighten my days with coloured sneakers that bring a smile to most people. But, without them my legs and feet are painful.

I recently tried to describe my pain to a health professional but found I did not have the language or the energy to express how I lived day-to-day with something that is invisible to the eye yet affects my quality of life. Chronic pain has a life of its own. It is powerful, unceasing, and challenging. Doing something unusual like changing shoes, can bring on a flare-up that lasts for days. The changes in my muscles as they react to change elicits a response that is painful, I become afraid of the pain because it is associated with shoes that are unusual. And so, the cycle continues. My central nervous system signals the brain that there is danger and a threat is perceived. I have begun thinking that wearing all shoes, except the sneakers, is anxiety provoking and painful. Therefore I have foot and leg pain, particularly at night after wearing ‘dress shoes’. Perhaps it is because I have polyneuropathy?

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Specialized  nerve endings, called “nociceptors” (pain receptors) respond to potentially damaging stimuli by sending signals to the spinal cord and brain. This causes the perception of pain. Chronic pain, which is the plague of those of us who suffer from fibromyalgia, is caused by the rewiring of the nervous system and is called central sensitization. It is a learning process that is generating chronic pain. This habituated thinking pattern of mine requires that I look at this sensation of pain and what is happening to my mind. It is important that I explore and face mindfully this central sensitization through exploring how the amygdala is always ready to give a signal to flee to that which is not even a potential threat. As I have learned in mindful meditation, it is important to live with the pain rather than fight against it. Change, even in shoes, is difficult for me. The amygdala is quick to try to avoid and escape from what is perceived to be a threat. The more I resist, the more the fear persists.

The pains that I experience in the legs are akin to  peripheral neuropathy, that is, damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system. It causes muscle weakness and pain. The more that I experience fear then accompanied with it is the leg pain. While neuropathy is common in such conditions as diabetes people with fibromyalgia experience the same symptoms, which are pain, tingling, pins and needles, and weakness. I have these symptoms in both legs and arms as well as sharp shooting pains often in back and shoulders. Unlike the diabetic however, the pains are not constant in fibromyalgia as they are in diabetes. I have to confess that Gabapentin does help. Unfortunately the side effects of weight gain and groggy head are very frustrating. There is evidence that people with FM have small-fiber polyneuropathy, but the evidence is inconclusive at this stage of research. There is still much to be learned.

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HOWEVER, ONCE AGAIN WE ARE FOCUSSING ON SYMPTOMS OF AN ALREADY COMPROMISED CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM RATHER THAN ASKING OURSELVES THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: WHAT HAS PRECIPITATED THIS FEARUL/ANXIOUS PERSON IN THE FIRST PLACE? My theory is that we have experienced trauma from either an early age or in utero,or later in life, we are already a highly sensitive person (HSP) and  subsequently our CNS is generally always in a state of hyper-arousal similar to those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sexual or emotional abuse, surgery, accidents, war, loss of a parent- the list is endless regarding how a HSP experiences and lives with trauma. Furthermore, triggers or flashbacks bring on flare-ups.

There are many who believe that by reducing the fear/anxiety rather than addressing the pain is the answer. But, if one has lived with severe chronic pain for most of her adult life, changing the brain is not an easy task. To add to my anxiety my body is now chronically unconditioned. I don’t move in a way that brings about good balance and posture. Muscles have atrophied and are weakened. I need frequent massages, physiotherapy and chiropractic adjustments. Maybe then I can hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy once more (note the sneakers I had on!) These pictures are difficult to watch when I am in so much pain. The question always arises: will I ever walk in comfort again as I did just  few short years ago?

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