Medically Reviewed by Beth Hendrickson, RN
Tactile allodynia, or hyper-sensitive skin, is just one of many bizarre conditions associated with fibromyalgia. Weird conditions trigger pain in the fibromite, which do not bother 'normal' people. For example, have you ever felt as if your clothes were attacking you?
Further, have you ever told somebody about your condition, only to watch their eyes glaze over like a sleepwalker? Fact is regular people don't really understand why fibromyalgia is such a 'big deal.'
To the bystander, fibromyalgia is a confusing disease, because there are no outward signs of suffering. But, to those who grapple with chronic pain; whose clothes torture them, it's a great-big-deal.
Let's focus on one specific condition, which has been linked with fibromyalgia – tactile allodynia.
What Causes Tactile Allodynia?
Allodynia means 'other pain' or pain resulting from activities of daily living (ADLs) that aren't supposed to hurt. For example: brushing hair, a friendly hand on the shoulder, a hug, clothing, and so on.
The root cause of tactile allodynia is complex. But, in layman's terms, brain messengers are confusing "touch signals" with "pain signals." In consequence, incorrect information is relayed to the brain. Therefore, the brain is put on notice to interpret touch as pain.
When Clothes Hurt
Clothing that binds, pinches or puts pressure on the skin can trigger tactile allodynia. Elastic waistbands that are too tight cause the skin to prickle and hurt. Pantyhose, especially control tops, can squeeze the lower body like a vice grip.
You might experiment with thigh-highs or even socks, if wearing pants. However, toe seams in socks can become the enemy. If your toes turn red and hurt, get yourself some socks for sensitive feet, like diabetics wear. (Tactile allodynia associated with fibromyalgia is similar to diabetic neuropathy.)
Underpants may pose a serious problem. If you get excruciating stomach aches or break out with a rash, consider organic cotton granny panties. Some people find relief with bikini cut panties, as they don't squash the belly.
Bras poke and prod the shoulders and back, resulting in persistent pain and angry red marks. The underwire type bra is the worst offender. Throw them out if you have any. Consider substituting camisoles with Lycra.
Labels and tags in clothing have been likened to barb wire pricking the skin. They can also cause a red, itchy rash.
Wear soft, breathable fabrics, such as organic cotton, jersey, or silk.
Bedtime can be utterly miserable. You may feel like you're lying in clusters of ant beds. People who have fibromyalgia already have problems getting to sleep and staying asleep. Tactile allodynia compounds sleep deprivation. Egyptian cotton sheets are the most comfortable. Get the highest thread count you can afford. Don't tuck the top sheet around the mattress in order to allow your feet wiggle room.
If your bottom sheet wrinkles and bunches-up, look into a product called 'sheet straps.'
Wear loose cotton pajamas. Gowns bunch up and cause pin-prick type pain.
A comfortable mattress is critical. Visit a high-end mattress store and tell the salesperson that you have fibromyalgia and allodynia. Try out mattresses made of natural latex for comfort. They "cradle" the body and help relieve trigger-point pressure.
You might also check out the memory foam mattress. Be mindful memory foam emits a strong smell of chemicals. Wait a few days after purchase before sleeping on one.
If you're on a tight budget, investigate memory-foam or pillow top toppers for your existing mattress.
Massage therapy is awesome for fibromyalgia. Not so awesome if you also have tactile allodynia. You may feel as if you have a dreadful sunburn and that the therapist is rubbing it raw.
Allodynia is not fibro-specific. Although this skin condition is rare, it has also been linked to shingles, diabetes, and chronic migraines.