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How does fibromyalgia affect legs?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body. While pain can occur all over, fibromyalgia often causes specific symptoms in the legs and feet.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a complex, long-term condition that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body. It often leads to fatigue, sleep issues, and problems with memory and mood. Fibromyalgia is considered a central sensitivity syndrome, meaning the central nervous system amplifies pain signals from the body.

The exact causes of fibromyalgia are still unknown, but research suggests it involves interactions between genetics, infections, physical trauma, and emotional trauma. Abnormalities in the way the brain processes pain signals are also thought to play a role.

Fibromyalgia affects 2-8% of the population, with a higher incidence in women. Symptoms often begin between the ages of 30-50 but can occur at any age. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but symptoms can be managed through medications, lifestyle changes, and alternative therapies.

Common fibromyalgia symptoms in the legs and feet

While the pain of fibromyalgia can occur anywhere, people commonly experience symptoms in their legs and feet. Some common fibromyalgia symptoms affecting the lower extremities include:

  • Generalized pain in the legs – An aching, throbbing, sore pain in the muscles and joints of the legs is very common.
  • Calf pain and cramps – Many people with fibromyalgia experience calf tightness and painful spasms or cramps, especially at night.
  • Tingling and numbness – Paresthesia, pins and needles sensations, and numbness frequently affect the legs and feet.
  • Lower extremity stiffness – Stiffness and reduced flexibility often cause feelings of tightness and tension in the legs.
  • Leg weakness – The legs often feel fatigued, shaky, and weak due to chronic fibromyalgia pain.
  • Restless legs syndrome – Up to 30% of fibro patients have this condition marked by crawling and aching sensations that create an urge to move the legs.
  • Cold feet – Poor circulation is common with fibromyalgia, causing frequently cold feet.
  • Swelling in the legs and feet – Fluid retention can lead to mild edema, or swelling in the lower extremities.
  • Balance problems – Fibromyalgia can impair balance and coordination, increasing the risk of falls.

Why does fibromyalgia cause leg and foot symptoms?

Researchers are still working to uncover why fibromyalgia often manifests in leg and foot pain. Some of the possible explanations include:

  • Increased sensitivity of pain receptors – People with fibromyalgia have more sensitive pain neurotransmitters, including in the limbs.
  • Reduced blood flow – Fibromyalgia seems to restrict blood flow to extremities, including the legs and feet.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances – Chemical abnormalities involving serotonin, norepinephrine, and substance P affect pain signaling.
  • Sleep disturbances – Non-restorative sleep exacerbates widespread pain.
  • Muscle spasms – Tight, contracted muscles create pain and spasms.
  • Physical overexertion – Too much activity without rest worsens fibromyalgia pain.

Researchers continue to study the complex interactions involved in fibromyalgia to better understand why it commonly produces lower body pain and other leg and foot symptoms.

How fibromyalgia impacts specific parts of the legs

Fibromyalgia can cause issues throughout the lower extremities. Some of the most affected areas include:


The thighs contain large, powerful muscles that are often overexerted and fatigued with fibromyalgia. Generalized pain, burning, throbbing, tightness, and tenderness frequently impact the thigh muscles. People may experience pain radiating down the thighs as well.


Several features make knees prone to fibromyalgia pain. Tenderness where ligaments and tendons attach is common. The knees often feel stiff, achy, and weak, making walking difficult. Pain or swelling behind or around the knees can also occur.


Cramping, spasms, tightness, and soreness in the calf muscles are very common with fibromyalgia. Constant low-level calf pain frequently occurs as well. These issues are often worse with activity and at night.


Repeated ankle sprains or injuries often make the ankles tender in fibromyalgia patients. Weak ankles that give out easily are also a problem. Ankle stiffness and throbbing pain around the ankle joint may also happen.


The feet bear the brunt of body weight all day, so they are prone to fibromyalgia pain. Burning sensations, numbness, and tingling frequently affect the feet. Heel or arch pain is also very common, as is tenderness along the bottoms or sides of the feet.

How can fibromyalgia impact leg and foot function?

In addition to causing pain, fibromyalgia can affect the normal function and mobility of the legs and feet in various ways, such as:

  • Reduced flexibility – Stiff, tense muscles in the hips, thighs, and calves limit flexibility in the legs.
  • Heavier or clumsy feeling legs – Legs may feel abnormally heavy, making them exhausting to move.
  • Limited walking tolerance – Severe pain and fatigue often reduce how far and fast someone can walk.
  • Impaired balance – Unsteadiness while standing or walking can increase fall risk.
  • Leg trembling or shaking – This can indicate muscle weakness or poor endurance.
  • Foot cramps and spasms – Painful tightening of foot muscles may occur, especially at rest.
  • Frequent tripping – Numbness or altered sensations in the feet increase tripping risk.
  • Difficulty driving – Pressing pedals can become uncomfortable or tiring.

Task like climbing stairs, getting up from chairs, or standing for long periods can also become challenging due to fibromyalgia leg and foot issues. Pain and stiffness often worsen after periods of inactivity, such as first thing in the morning.

Treatments for fibromyalgia leg and foot pain

While no cure for fibromyalgia exists, various treatments can provide symptom relief and improve functioning. Some options that may help reduce leg and foot pain include:


Prescription medications used for fibromyalgia leg pain include:

  • Pain relievers – Mild opioids or NSAIDs to reduce pain.
  • Antidepressants – Help regulate pain signaling neurotransmitters.
  • Anti-seizure drugs – Used for calming nerve pain and sensory issues.
  • Muscle relaxants – Relieve muscle tightness and spasms.
  • Circulatory agents – Improve blood flow to the extremities.

Stretching and low-impact exercise

Gentle exercises like yoga, tai chi, and walking can improve flexibility and circulation in the legs. Stretching tight muscles may also offer relief. However, overexertion can make pain worse.


Massaging sore, tender leg and foot muscles promotes relaxation and blood flow. Massage may help temporarily loosen tight muscles as well.

Physical therapy

Working with a physical therapist can build strength, improve balance, and identify ways to move that reduce strain on the legs and feet.


Shoe inserts, braces, or supportive footwear may improve alignment and take pressure off sore spots when standing or walking.

Heat and cold

Alternating gentle heat and cold applied to painful areas may temporarily relieve discomfort. Improving blood flow can also reduce stiffness.

Lifestyle adjustments

Pacing activity, wearing supportive footwear, losing excess weight, and managing stress can help minimize flares of leg and foot pain.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if:

  • Leg or foot pain disrupts sleep or daily life
  • Symptoms persist despite self-care and over-the-counter remedies
  • New areas of swelling develop in the lower extremities
  • You experience numbness, tingling, or loss of leg or foot function
  • Pain worsens when resting instead of improving

Sudden, severe leg pain also warrants prompt medical evaluation to rule out dangerous clots or blockages. Seek emergency care for leg pain, swelling, or redness accompanied by shortness of breath or chest pain.

Diagnosing fibromyalgia leg and foot pain

To diagnose fibromyalgia leg and foot pain, doctors take a full medical history and perform a physical exam to identify tender points. They will also check for issues like arthritis, injuries, or nerve damage that could cause similar symptoms. Your doctor may order tests like:

  • Blood tests – To check for autoimmune disorders, vitamin deficiencies, etc.
  • X-rays – Help rule out fractures, arthritis, injuries, etc.
  • MRI – Provides images of soft tissues like muscles and ligaments.
  • Nerve conduction study – Measures how well nerves transmit signals.

There are no definitive medical tests for fibromyalgia, so doctors mainly rely on clinical assessment of symptoms. Keeping a pain and symptom journal can help identify patterns useful for diagnosis.


Fibromyalgia frequently causes leg and foot pain and other lower extremity symptoms. Understanding how fibromyalgia impacts the legs and feet empowers patients to find effective coping strategies. While fibromyalgia cannot be cured, a variety of treatments offer hope for managing pain and improving mobility and function. Working closely with your healthcare providers can help determine the best treatment options for relieving your fibromyalgia leg and foot pain.