Allodynia – When Touch Becomes Painful

What is Allodynia?

Allodynia, according to Wikipedia, is “the triggering of a pain response from stimuli which do not normally provoke pain.” So, for example, if someone pats you gently on the back it can cause intense pain, or maybe if you run your hands through your hair it feels painful when it really shouldn’t.

Allodynia is a feature of many chronic pain conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, migraine and neuropathies.

There are four sub-types of Allodynia. According to Cort Johnson in the blog post, When Touch Hurts: An overview of Allodynia, these are:

  • Tactile mechanical allodynia  – triggered by touch
  • Static mechanical allodynia – triggered by light pressure
  • Dynamic mechanical allodynia – triggered by brushing the skin
  • Thermal allodynia – triggered by cold or hot stimuli

At times I’ve had all four, and I can tell you now Allodynia sucks. It’s probably my most upsetting symptom of Fibromyalgia. Why? Because it means that when people you love touch you it can seriously hurt. That means that cuddle on the sofa on a Saturday night whilst watching your favourite movie can hurt. Putting on your boots? It can hurt. Going to have your hair done at a salon? That can hurt. Placing slippers on your feet? It can hurt.

Holding your child on your lap? It can hurt!

It means that everyday life can become a nightmare. It means social interactions with the people you love and the friends you care about can become a complete minefield. How do you tell your small child that the reason you can’t hug them at that moment is that it physically hurts?

Allodynia sucks”

What does it feel like?

As with all Fibromyalgia symptoms, it varies from person to person. Some people don’t get it at all, others can have it and feel severe pain. My allodynia ranges from a dull ache to an intense burning feeling. My toes are playing up at the moment. I put my boots on – they’re a good size and not too small – and the four little toes on my right foot burn. I know it’s not the boots because it also happens when I put lightweight slippers on. I don’t have my hair washed at the salon anymore because I don’t like the burning sensation I feel when they rub my head. I used to love having my hair washed at the salon! And, sometimes my duvet can feel like it’s burning my skin. Other times the draft from an open door can induce pain.

Allodynia can also feel like an intense itch, a stabbing feeling or more of a dull ache.

53ff99abcba25eb804a6c77b6d78f38a (1).jpg

What causes it?

Pain is strange and complicated. I’m intending to write a whole article on pain in the future. Pain actually originates in the brain. It’s a protector when it’s functioning normally but in allodynia (and in fibromyalgia), something has gone wrong with the way the pain system works. It’s like it’s on overdrive or has short-circuited. Your body becomes over-sensitive to pain.

an intense itch, a stabbing feeling or more of a dull ache.”

Why touch is important

Touch is very important. According to Psychology Today, it’s the first sense we gain. Read their article, The Power of Touch here. We can convey emotions and feelings through touch. We develop and strengthen relationships through touch. It is known that touch increases a person’s mental and physical well being. It builds intimacy, both of the sexual and non-sexual kind and increases trust and the feeling of security. The article The Human Touch: 4 Reasons it’s Important on I Heart Intelligence (find it here) provides more information on this.

So what do we do when the touch of other people hurts us?

Whilst it is tempting to avoid contact with people when we hurt it’s really not a good idea. As we can see, touch is very important to our wellbeing and that of the people around us. We mustn’t push people away.

Maybe the most important thing is to talk to those around you. Try and explain that you’re not being awkward when you don’t want that cuddle right at that moment. It will be hard for people who don’t experience it to understand how much a gentle rub on the back can hurt. Obviously, young children won’t understand. Sometimes, when my daughter sits on my lap, I grin and bear it. Sometimes, it’s just too much and then I’ll say something like Oh, Mommy has painful legs at the moment, can we have a side by side hug instead?

The good news is there are treatment options. You need to talk to your General Practitioner. I have found that Amitriptyline takes the edge off for me. I have also used Gabapentin in the past. It helped but I ended up putting on lots of weight with it so I stopped using it.

There’s also Pain Management Clinics that help you manage your pain. I’ve just started one of these Pain Management Courses so I’m right at the beginning of the journey. I’ll let you know how it goes! The one thing I have learnt is that pain is weird and doesn’t necessarily operate how you would expect it to. More on this in future posts.

Talk to others, whether that’s in online forums or with a counsellor, a physiotherapist or a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. CBT has helped me a lot. Psychological support is very important in helping you to manage your pain and your relationships.

And try not to avoid doing things! It’s hard, I know. It’s very tempting not to put my boots on and go out. And I am a hypocrite because there are things that I do avoid, like going to have my hair done (hey, I never said I was perfect!!! :)) but I like to choose my battles to fight. Plus, now I’m on amitriptyline things have calmed down a lot.

This is a frustrating symptom of fibro and is as different and unique as the people who suffer. Only you can find what helps your specific set of symptoms. But whatever you do, please don’t suffer alone!

What do you do to manage your allodynia?

 

With thanks to Jamierodriguez37 on Morguefile.com for the featured image. And the image in the article is thanks to lauramusikanski also at Morguefile.

Further Reading:

https://www.verywellhealth.com/painful-to-touch-fibromyalgia-tactile-allodynia-3972954

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allodynia

https://www.healthrising.org/blog/2015/02/21/when-touch-hurts-an-overview-of-allodynia/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/complex-regional-pain-syndrome

https://www.healthline.com/health/allodynia

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201303/the-power-touch

https://iheartintelligence.com/human-touch/

https://www.verywellhealth.com/painful-to-touch-fibromyalgia-tactile-allodynia-3972954

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