Living with fibromyalgia, which can be a long-lasting or chronic medical condition, can sometimes be a challenge. Muscle pain and fatigue can make it quite difficult to participate in activities you once enjoyed, and up to four million patients in the United States alone battle this disorder. While researchers and healthcare providers still cannot pinpoint the cause of fibromyalgia, great strides have been made in treating symptoms helping patients manage their condition.
While many patients living with fibromyalgia are under the impression exercise exacerbates their pain and fatigue, it isn’t quite so simple. While it’s true some exercise can contribute to post-exertional malaise, muscle soreness and fatigue, there are ways to ensure you maintain a healthy level of exercise and fitness while managing this condition. The key lies in understanding the unique roles of trigger pain and appropriate types of exercise for your body.
There is no lab test to detect or diagnose fibromyalgia. Instead, doctors complete a specific exam to determine whether patients feel pain when specific tender points are palpated. For a doctor to arrive at a fibromyalgia diagnosis, a patient must have widespread pain for a minimum of three months, affecting all four quadrants of their bodies. Patients must also exhibit tenderness in at least 11 of 18 specific tender points. A doctor cannot feel these points themselves; to the touch, they feel like normal soft tissue.
Trigger points, however, are associated with myofascial pain syndrome, which can occur in conjunction with fibromyalgia. These trigger points can be felt by your examiner as “knots” in muscle fiber. They’re visible in ultrasound images, create an observable twitch response when manipulated and cause pain to radiate in a specific pattern.
When your body feels sore, weak and fatigued, exercise is often the lowest on your list of priorities. Starting with light exercise and gradually working toward a moderate intensity, though, can have significant impact on pain. Studies indicate low-intensity aerobic exercise may be of great benefit when it comes to reducing pain, and is low-risk for patients with fibromyalgia. Resistance exercise also shows considerable promise, with improvements in overall health status, muscle strength and pain intensity for those with this often-debilitating condition.
Because maintaining a reasonable activity level is vital for overall health, it is important for patients with fibromyalgia to work closely with their healthcare providers to devise a low-risk, low-intensity exercise plan. As little as five minutes per day can boost overall wellness, alleviate pain and reduce the severity of fibromyalgia.