Exercise is Effective for Fibromyalgia Pain Relief

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to work with a very nice lady who was trying desperately to reduce the painful effects of fibromyalgia. She had been suffering for years as a result of this painful and debilitating condition.

Like most chronic pain conditions, the worst thing may not even be the pain itself. It is the effect that the pain has on the rest of your life. In my client’s case, she spent the first year of her daughter’s life in bed. Every day. Unable to care for her newborn child.

When I met her, she was in better shape. Her daughter was older. She participated in her daughter’s life. She had a challenging career. She was happy. But she was still in constant pain.

She came to me after having quite a few bad experiences with different forms of physical and exercise therapy. At the time, I was working at a fitness club. She was initially assigned to work with a young, female trainer. Her choice.

It didn’t go well. The female trainer, who was a good trainer, knew little about fibromyalgia. During their first workout, she treated her client like a normal, PAIN FREE person. Bad move.

A week later, our fibromyalgia lady returned and demanded her money back. She had spent the last week in bed, popping pills and regretting ever coming into our gym.

I don’t know how, but the owner of the club managed to calm her down and have her agree to sit down and talk with me.

At this point, I knew very little about fibromyalgia. I did, however, know how to talk, or rather listen to justifiably angry women. Yes, I am married.

We discussed her condition. I gave her my opinion and told her that I would spend the next few days researching the subject. A few days later, we met and talked again. I discussed my findings and outlined what my plan for her fitness training would include. After about half an hour, we began our workout.

It was very slow at the beginning, but after about 3 months, everything began to change. Her body changed. She was catching up and blowing by some of my pain-free clients. More importantly, her day to day life improved drastically.

For those of you out there who know someone like my former client, please show them the following research paper, along with my story and do what you have to do to get them moving. They will thank you for it. Not right away…right away they might not be too pleased…but eventually..they will thank you.

Group Exercise, Education, and Combination Self-management in Women With Fibromyalgia

A Randomized Trial

Daniel S. Rooks, ScD; Shiva Gautam, PhD; Matthew Romeling, BS; Martha L. Cross, BS; Diana Stratigakis, BA; Brittany Evans, BS; Don L. Goldenberg, MD; Maura D. Iversen, DPT, SD, MPH; Jeffrey N. Katz, MD, MS

Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(20):2192-2200.

Background Self-management has increasingly been recommended as part of standard care for fibromyalgia, a common, poorly understood condition with limited treatment options. Data that assess popular self-management recommendations are scarce. We evaluated and compared the effectiveness of 4 common self-management treatments on function, symptoms, and self-efficacy in women with fibromyalgia.

Methods A total of 207 women with confirmed fibromyalgia were recruited from September 16, 2002, through November 30, 2004, and randomly assigned to 16 weeks of (1) aerobic and flexibility exercise (AE); (2) strength training, aerobic, and flexibility exercise (ST); (3) the Fibromyalgia Self-Help Course (FSHC); or (4) a combination of ST and FSHC (ST-FSHC). The primary outcome was change in physical function from baseline to completion of the intervention. Secondary outcomes included social and emotional function, symptoms, and self-efficacy.

Results Improvements in the mean Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire score in the 4 groups were –12.7 for the ST-FSHC group, –8.2 for the AE group, –6.6 for the ST group, and –0.3 for the FSHC group. The ST-FSHC group demonstrated greater improvement than the FSHC group (mean difference, –12.4; 95% confidence interval [CI], –23.1 to –1.7). The ST-FSHC (mean difference, 13.6; 95% CI, 2.3 to 24.9) and AE (mean difference, 13.1; 95% CI, 1.6 to 25.6) groups had similar improvements in physical function scores on the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey. Bodily pain scores on the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey improved in the ST-FSHC (14.8), AE (13.2), and ST (5.7) groups. Social function, mental health, fatigue, depression, and self-efficacy also improved. The beneficial effect on physical function of exercise alone and in combination with education persisted at 6 months.

Conclusions Progressive walking, simple strength training movements, and stretching activities improve functional status, key symptoms, and self-efficacy in women with fibromyalgia actively being treated with medication. The benefits of exercise are enhanced when combined with targeted self-management education. Our findings suggest that appropriate exercise and patient education be included in the treatment of fibromyalgia.

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  1. #1 by miguelpineiro on May 10, 2008 - 4:14 pm

    Interesting post, I’ll be sure to pass this info to my girlfriend’s dad. His friend has fibromyalgia and I don’t think she does any exercise. Thanks!

  2. #2 by notoriousthorn on May 11, 2008 - 9:00 am

    I have fibromyalgia, and I came across your page by mere fortuity. One of the only things that keeps me going is exercise. It’s so important, and for a fibro sufferer, probably the most important thing. I am medication free, and have even begun to run regularly. Yes, I am in constant pain, but it is managed now, all because of exercise.

  3. #3 by Catana on May 11, 2008 - 1:09 pm

    I’ve had fibro for over twenty years, so I can say from experience that complete lack of exercise can be as bad as too much exercise. Without exercise, stiffness and pain can build up to very stressful levels. That makes it much harder to do what has to be done to relieve it — start exercising. Very slowly, very gently, and not to the point of excessive fatigue, which can actually set you back, as your first client found out.

  4. #4 by ahnkara on May 11, 2008 - 4:22 pm

    I don’t have fibromyalgia but was diagnosed with osteoarthritus in my knees age 49. Was using sticks to walk. While pushing my new grandson in his pram we were caught in a terrible snow storm, and I almost ran to the car , WITH NO PAIN, WAS AMAZED. As I didn’t take conventional medicine only “alternatives” I think I am letting my body learn to heal its self. 5 years on and I am starting to run and cycle, only slowly and gently, most pain is relieved by exercising, often difficult to start when in pain.I’m hopeful I will continueto get more mobile, as joints seem to be loosening up. Perhaps I was mis-diagnosed, who knows. Wish someone had told me to exercise at the beginning, but you have just got to try, I am so grateful to be walking and able to go upstairs.

  5. #5 by Jay on May 12, 2008 - 5:27 pm

    Exercise is what keep my mom pain-free. It’s amazing what natural prescriptions can do for one’s health.

    “Walking is a man’s best medicine.” ~Hippocrates

  6. #6 by Eric on May 13, 2008 - 6:28 pm

    I am a family doctor in Temecula, Ca. and I have noticed that 100% of my patients with Fibromyalgia have Vitamin D deficiency. I have noticed that those with more pain have lower levels of Vitamin D.

    Interestingly, Merck Manual clearly states under – Symptoms and Signs- ” Vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle aches, muscle weakness, and bone pain at any age.” (http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec01/ch004/ch004k.html?qt=vitamin%20d%20deficiency&alt=sh#sec01-ch004-ch004l-438 )

    I have had success in helping a few patients with fibromyalgia. It is real important that those with fibromyalgia get their Vitamin D 25-OH levels checked. The treatment is with Vitamin D3 (Not regular Vitamin D), probably 4,000-8,ooo IU daily depending on your levels. It is important to discuss this with your doctor before initiating therapy. Best of Luck! Eric Madrid MD (www.healthandsurvival.com)

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