Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a pain-fatigue syndrome that affects up to 4% of the population aged 20-60 and 80% of those diagnosed with the syndrome are women (Smith & Barkin 2010). People affected by it are typically dealing with both physical and psychological pain. Feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration, and guilt (why me?) are coupled with chronic pain, fatigue, headaches, and nerve dysfunction. Other Symptoms may include restless leg syndrome, morning stiffness, temporo-mandibular joint disorder (TMJ), impaired concentration, and sensitivity in various “tender points.”
As you would expect, these symptoms can take a severe toll in many ways. Those who are affected often find it difficult just carrying out their daily routines. Among, FMS patients who were surveyed:
- 35% reported having difficulty performing normal daily activities of daily living
- 55% had difficulty walking two blocks
- 62% had trouble climbing stairs
- Two-thirds or more had difficulty with the minor tasks of shopping (66%), light household chores (68%) and carrying 10 pounds (70%) (Bennett et al. 2007).
The underlying cause of fibromyalgia is still being figured out. Exploring the details of the history or current research regarding its cause is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is noteworthy that research not only has shown that exercise is beneficial to treating those with FMS, but should be a central component to treating it.
According to Rossy et al. (1999), 49 studies show that drug-free treatments are more effective that drug treatments for the symptoms of fibromyalgia, and assert that exercise is central to the treatment of fibromyalgia. And even more recently, “Research has repeatedly shown that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for fibromyalgia” (NIAMS 2011)
Then the question is, what modes of exercise are the best?
Research has shown significant benefits with the following activities*:
- Walking Daily at a moderate pace.
- Deep water running or water aerobic regimen 3-5 days/week for 45 minutes
- Cycling at 70-75% of age predicted maximum
- Resistance Training 2-3 days per week at intensities corresponding to 8-12 repetitions to fatigue.
- Mind-Body Approaches such as: yoga, pilates, breathing exercises, whole body vibration training
Now studies have shown that it is important to start slow and participate in mild workouts when first starting out. From there gradual progressions can be made. You will want to avoid intense, fatiguing exercises because it will enhance the build up and overproduction of metabolic byproducts like lactic acid which can actually make symptoms much worse. In fact, a 70% of surveyed patients have reported that strenuous physical activity is a prime aggravator for their symptoms (Bennett et al. 2007)
So when first starting out it is recommended to:
- Begin with one mode of exercise, walking is the most common.
- Exercise intensity should be self-determined
- Incorporate 1-2 days of rest in between workouts when needed
- Develop Good Sleep Habits and Eating Patterns
- As symptoms and endurance improves, slowly begin to introduce an additional activity.
- Try a variety of each of the activities listed to help you decide which ones are the most effective.
Every FMS case is different and should be treated on an individual basis. Work under the supervision of your health care professional to determine the best modes of activities to include and reap the medicinal benefits of exercise.
Assis et al. 2006
Cuesta-Vargas& Adams 2011
Hooten et al. 2012
Hurley, Hanson & Sheaff 2011
Busch et al. 2011