Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a baffling and often disabling disorder that affects millions of Americans. Unlike the localized pain of arthritis and tendonitis, fibromyalgia’s chronic and long-lasting pain and stiffness are spread all over your body. This condition of unknown cause results in joint, muscle and spine pain. Applying pressure in certain areas makes tender points sore. You also may experience headaches, poor sleep quality, morning stiffness, fatigue, trouble concentrating and depression.
Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation changes fibromyalgia patients’ brains. An abnormal increase in certain brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, levels causes nerve cells to fire off too many signals. This makes you overly sensitive to things that wouldn’t be painful normally. Your brain’s pain receptors remember severe sensations, so they overreact to pain signals in an ongoing cycle. Luckily, combining medication with exercise provides relief.
Each person’s body responds to fibromyalgia uniquely. To reduce widespread pain, yourdoctor may prescribe one medication or a combination. Some help ease pain while others boost mood and improve sleep. An analgesic like Tylenol elevates your pain threshold so you perceive less pain. Various antidepressants bring relief while encouraging sleep. Researchers think Cymbalta increases serotonin and norepinephrine levels, which improve mood while suppressing pain. Cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant, aids sleep while easing muscular spasms in specific locations without affecting your overall muscle function. An anti-seizure medicine like Neurontin reduces the over-stimulation of nerve endings so you feel less pain.
Graded Exercise Approach
Many FMS patients are unfit and avoid physical activity because they fear it will increase their pain. You may feel unable to work out. However, research confirms that regular exercise increases your body’s production of endorphins, natural painkillers that also elevate your mood. Studies indicate that physical activity is the best way to supplement medication and ease your symptoms. It prevents muscle wasting, eases pain, reduces fatigue, improves physical and emotional function, relieves depression and increases well-being over time. Some studies have found improvements last for up to nine months after training ends.
Start each workout session with a stretching routine to help relax tense muscles and prevent soreness. Programs combine aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises often. Graded exercise is a gradual activity that begins with mild exercise. Start slowly, and build your duration and intensity over time. Try walking or using equipment such as a treadmill or stationary bike. You may prefer swimming or water therapy because they don’t require putting weight on your joints.
Studies indicate that people with FMS are able to tolerate warm-water exercise better than some other workout types. Water workouts are easier to perform and gentler on your body. Non-impact activities like deep-water running, water aerobics and isokinetics don’t jar your muscles and joints. Buoyancy decreases the effects of gravity, so moving takes less effort. Water provides resistance, which helps you build strength and increase your balance.
Numerous studies show that warm-water exercise improves pain threshold, decreases tender point counts, reduces pain sensations and helps people perceive their conditions as less severe. It also promotes restful sleep, lessens anxiety and depression, boosts cognitive function and creates a more positive outlook on life. A study of women with fibromyalgia found that exercising in a warm swimming pool was a cost-effective therapy that improves quality of life.
Heat brings FMS relief because cold water can make your muscles tense up. Many people with FMS have a cold intolerance. The ideal therapeutic water temperature is 89.6 degrees F, which is warmer than most heated pools. Soaking in a hot tub or warm bath also helps you relax and lower your pain perception.
According to holistic health consultant Dr. Julie Cerrato, regular exercise can help you reduce stress, improve your serotonin levels, sooth your aching muscles and increase your strength. Avoid strenuous activity and high-intensity exercise because they can create inflammation and more pain. You can reduce your FMS symptoms dramatically by exercising slowly, determining your own personal limits and working out with a fitness professional. Exercise to the point of mild fatigue and then stop.
Multiple studies show that meditation-based exercises like yoga and tai chi are effective at reducing fibromyalgia-associated pain. Yoga helps you increase muscle endurance and flexibility while delivering much-needed oxygen to your sore muscles. Tai helps improve and remove blockages and unwanted toxins in your muscles and blood. Studies show that after just 12 weeks of tai chi, people slept better, felt better, had less pain and more energy along with improved physical and mental health.
Customize Your Fibromyalgia Therapy
Fibromyalgia symptoms and severity differ for every patient. Likewise, finding the right therapy combination from many medication and exercise options is a very individualized process. If you don’t respond to one type of workout, be patient as you experiment with alternatives. When you’re anxious to see if a new routine works, resist the urge to attempt difficult exercises too soon. Like other patients who have jumped ahead too hastily, you’re likely to experience increased pain and give up completely.
Your doctor, a physical therapist or fitness trainer can help you customize the best workout solution for your needs. Proceed gradually to enjoy the benefits of exercise without suffering from the strain of vigorous activity. Then stick to your combination fibromyalgia program for ongoing symptom relief that will enhance your quality of life.