Fibromyalgia is a condition that has many varied symptoms but chief amongst them by many sufferers is chronic pain. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia many years ago, and while I definitely live with chronic pain, my other medical conditions are more acute, so my doctors never pay much attention to helping me manage fibromyalgia symptoms. Because of this, I’ve had to find my own means for managing the pain and other symptoms that can sometimes be caused by fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia pain can take many forms, from joint and muscle pain to an all-over achiness that is difficult to describe or pinpoint. This pain differs from person to person, as does the response to the various treatments available to manage the fibromyalgia pain.
One universal management technique for fibromyalgia pain is exercise. Moderate physical activity that includes stretching, isometrics, and light aerobic exercise have all been shown in studies to help alleviate and perhaps prevent the pain often associated with fibromyalgia.
Benefits of Exercise for Fibromyalgia
According to WebMD, studies have shown that exercise can help strengthen the body and reduce aches and pains, particularly those associated with fibromyalgia. Now, strenuous exercise can actually trigger a flare of symptoms, but light to medium activity that includes a moderately increased heart rate, moderately increased breathing rate, and stretching of the long muscles in the body can all lead to improved health and a reduction in pain.
Stress Reduction Improves Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Exercise has long been known to reduce stress, and fibromyalgia has long been known to flare in periods of higher stress, because the sufferer’s body doesn’t respond properly to stressors, such as emotional stress, physical stress on the body (lack of sleep, poor nutrition, extreme physical exertion, etc.), and psychological stress (changes in endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, etc.). Light to moderate, regular exercise helps to alleviate physical stress by conditioning the body. Exercise also helps alleviate psychological stress because of its ability to help regulate brain hormones and neurotransmitters.
When the body is in better condition, emotional stress becomes easier for the body to handle, even when a fibromyalgia patient can’t avoid these stressors completely.
It’s important to note that stress itself doesn’t cause fibromyalgia, but it’s long been proven that stress can exacerbate symptoms and cause a flare of the condition, making it much more difficult to manage.
Using Pain to Relieve Pain for Fibromyalgia
While it might sound counterintuitive, increasing pain slightly can actually help alleviate pain. The reason for this is, when the body feels pain chronically, it adjusts to pain being the status quo, the normal situation for the body, and thus no longer sends out the natural pain-killing endorphins and other things that help alleviate the experience of pain. When someone with fibromyalgia is experiencing long-term, chronic low-level pain, light stretching and exercise might increase the pain experience ever so slightly while moving, but the results, if the patient can stick with it, will be an overall reduction of pain sensation.
Exercise for an otherwise healthy fibromyalgia sufferer can actually increase oxygen circulation, increase blood flow throughout the body, and increase all the brain chemicals that help diminish or even eliminate pain in the body. Regular exercise can then help prevent flares or lessen their duration and painfulness.
How Much Exercise Helps with Fibromyalgia?
According to this article about fibromyalgia and exercise, sufferers should try to do some moderate exercise every day. The term ‘moderate’ will differ from person to person, but the body signals are a good guide to how much is enough or too much.
While it might be slightly painful in the beginning, the more the body moves, the easier it should be to move. As long as the pain begins to lessen, keep going. If the pain worsens or becomes acute or sharp, then back off or stop and try again the next day. Building up a routine and strengthening the body happens gradually, but some improvement should be noticed right away. Take it slow at first, and work up to more difficult exercises.
It’s also important to understand that with fibromyalgia, stamina and ability to exercise can change drastically from one day to the next, so be patient with your body and know that one day you might not be able to stretch as far or as much as the day before, but the next day you might even be able to do more. Follow your body’s cues as to how much to do each day and try not to overdo it, but don’t stop completely just because it’s a difficult on one particular day.
A program of regular, moderate exercise and stretching is important for everyone to follow, but for a fibromyalgia sufferer, it might be the very thing that stands between being active and participating in life versus being in pain and unable to function well. Fibromyalgia can be frustrating and devastating at times, but there are ways to improve quality of life, and exercise is one of those ways.