Exercise and Fibromyalgia

Conditions that cause pain in your joints and muscles can lock you into a terrible loop.
Often sufferers are afraid to exercise out of concern that it will worsen their pain.
Unfortunately, the lack of exercise will usually make their condition more difficult to bear.
Fibromyalgia, which affects 5.8 million Americans, is just such an illness.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Although it is not very well understood, fibromyalgia can be a debilitating disorder that is characterized by pain in the muscles and joints, fatigue and cognitive difficulties. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown but researchers suspect that it is linked to physical or psychological trauma.

The constant dull aching that is associated with fibromyalgia can make it difficult to sleep and is often experienced along with other sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.

Fibromyalgia also commonly occurs alongside depression, anxiety, endometriosis, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

When you consider the wide range of symptoms that accompany fibromyalgia, it is logical that people enduring it would avoid exercise. But research indicates that a properly designed fitness program could be an effective way of treating the condition.

How Exercise Can Help

One of the major concerns facing patients with fibromyalgia is deconditioning. The lack of activity will gradually make your heart, lungs and muscles function less and less efficiently. This will, in turn, cause greater difficulty in movement and increase the amount of pain in your joints and muscles.

Poor posture, tight muscles and limited range of motion are also byproducts of inactivity. Each of these factors can contribute to pain and difficulty moving.

If you struggle with fibromyalgia, the solution may be to do whatever is in your control to improve your body’s ability to move efficiently. Even light exercise can provide exactly that.

A large study that observed 170 fibromyalgia patients was funded by the National Institutes of Health in 2013 to gain further insight on the effect of exercise on the disorder. Each participant was given an exercise prescription based on their starting fitness level that gradually became more challenging, more frequent and longer over the course of the 3-month study. Throughout the study, and for six months following, they were also asked to fill out several questionnaires.

At the end of the study, it was found that they subjects who stuck to their exercise routine experienced less physical impairment and better overall well-being than those who abandoned their workouts.

One key element appears to be a steady increase in activity, which showed a corresponding decrease in pain. A rapid and short-live burst of activity didn’t produce any benefits.

Of all the participants who increased their activity levels, even beyond the length of the study, no one experienced an increase in pain.

How To Do It

Anyone, whether they have fibromyalgia or not, will experience pain if they jump in to a difficult workout too quickly. Start off gradually and incorporate both strength and endurance training.

Your strength training should consist of light weights so that you can focus on maintaining perfect form throughout the movement. Consider working with a trainer to be sure that your form is correct to help avoid injury.

Aerobic training should be your chief concern and should be performed at least three times per week. Stick to a moderate intensity, where you can comfortably have a conversation, and start at just a few minutes. Gradually increase the duration of your workouts to about 40 minutes.

Each session should begin and end with mobility training. These movements should be done slowly, emphasizing flexibility and a full range of motion.

If you experience flare-ups, when your pain is especially bad, take time off the recover. Pick up your routine again as soon as you feel better.

Do you struggle to stay active despite fibromyalgia? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibromyalgia/DS00079

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/29/increasing-vigorous-exercise-can-improve-fibromyalgia-symptoms/

http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy_living_fit_facts_content.aspx?itemid=2595

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