Leg Pains With Fibromyalgia: Possible Causes

A physical therapist works on a patient's leg.
Are your leg pains part of fibromyalgia or something else?. Hero Images/Getty Images

Fibromyalgia can cause pain anywhere and everywhere, and to any degree. That makes it really difficult to identify other sources of pain -- we tend to just write them off as fibromyalgia. I've done it more than once, but fortunately my doctor always asks where I'm hurting and she's been able to hone in on problems I didn't realize I had.

A recent comment from a reader really caught my eye because it described something I at first attributed to fibro and later learned was something else entirely:

"When I get stressed at work or I am having problems with employees, I get unbearable pains down both my legs. It feels like shin splints. This last for several days at a time. I find it hard to walk. I'm almost dragging my feet. When I get home I lay on the couch in a fetal position and rock in pain." -Karen

When I described this type of pain to my rheumatologist, she did some poking around on my legs and told me I had something called iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome. It's typically a runner's injury (yeah, I know -- I tried not to laugh!), but I have to wonder if those lax connective tissues we have could contribute to it. Of course, I can't say that is what Karen has, but it's certainly something to ask the doctor about. The good news is, some simple stretching exercises can really help.

ITB Syndrome

The iliotibial band runs down the outside of the thigh, from the hip to the knee. However, when it's aggravated and ITB syndrome develops, it can hurt clear down into the arch of your foot.

When I talked to my doctor about it, the pain was severe and really interfering with my sleep (which was bad enough already, thank you!) After a couple days of doing the right stretches, however, it started feeling a lot better.

Here are links that can help you get started with ITB stretches:

Other than the stretches, I've had good luck with capsaicin on my calves (be cautious -- it can burn) and with alternating heat and ice right at the hip. I may start getting acupuncture for it as well, at my doctor's recommendation.

Other Possibilities

Something else that could cause that shin-splint pain, and that's common with fibromyalgia, is myofascial pain syndrome. Triggerpoints.net has a great illustration of how trigger points at the hip (the x's) cause radiating pain (the red areas) down the outside of the leg: Lateral Leg Pain. (That site is a must for anyone with MPS.)

Is it possible for fibromyalgia to mimic the pain of shin splints/ITB syndrome/myofascial pain syndrome? Sure. When it comes to pain, fibromyalgia is a jack-of-all-trades. But it's worth looking into other possibilities, because those other causes of pain are usually a lot easier to treat.

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