Let's Start at the Beginning: What is Fibromyalgia?
If you have it, you definitely know how it makes you feel. However, the Mayo Clinic describes Fibromyalgia as "a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues." Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and nonpainful signals.
While symptoms often begin after an event, such as physical trauma, surgery, infection, or significant psychological stress, they can also gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.
Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and depression. (See our August 11, 2023, Blog post on the connection between mental health and gut health).
So, How Can You Improve Your Quality of Life? Exercise!!!
Does this come as a surprise? We realize that it might, and if you have fibromyalgia and you’re in pain, exercising is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But some experts say it’s actually one of the most effective strategies you can try to help manage this chronic pain condition.
We recognize that a lot of people with fibromyalgia already struggle to get through their regular daily activities and adding exercise on top of that may seem impossible, but it can actually help. It’s natural to worry that any exercise will make your pain worse and leave you wiped out. However, research has shown that adding more physical activity into your day may actually decrease your pain, improve your sleep, and give you more energy. So, what can you do to feel better prepared to add exercise to your day?
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Take it Slowly
When you feel like you're ready to begin an exercise program, start slowly. Taking a "small-steps" approach to beginning an exercise plan can really help you to achieve success. Add activity in small doses, every day if you can. Then build up your activity slowly over time.
For example, if you walked for 10 minutes today, try 11 minutes — a 10% increase — a week later. This approach is especially important for avoiding a phenomenon called post-exertional malaise (PEM). Many people with fibromyalgia have this problem.
PEM usually develops following days when you feel less pain or more energy, and you try to get things done that you have been unable to do because of your symptoms. When this happens, you may wind up feeling so exhausted that it takes days or even longer to recover.
A gradual approach to exercise can help prevent PEM. Most research recommends low-impact aerobic activity such as:
- Tai Chi
Remember, slow and steady wins the race and whatever activity you choose, be patient with yourself. Short-term setbacks may occur, but being patient and working to overcome them can help you make long-term progress and increase your overall feeling of wellness.