The term ‘fibromyalgia’ is something commonly discussed in the clinic when establishing the source of a patient’s pain. It refers to a generalized condition of multiple tender points and widespread pain in the body. Other symptoms commonly associated with this condition are fatigue, sleep disturbance and even depression, anxiety and irritable bladder and bowel.
Pain is something we have all experienced in our lives but have you ever really considered how and why you are experiencing it? We all know that pain is basically triggered due to damage to the body, therefore acting as a message to prevent us from doing further harm. Ultimately, pain processing areas in the brain are responsible for creating the sensation of pain based upon signals received from the damaged area. However, the pain experienced with fibromyalgia is not a result of damaged tissue but rather dysfunction to the way pain is signaled and processed. It’s like the volume control is stuck on high.
Diagnosing fibromyalgia is mainly based on the symptoms described by the patient and should include specific tender points in the legs, trunk and upper body together. Blood tests may be used by your doctor to rule out other conditions such as certain types of arthritis, however there are no specific blood tests for fibromyalgia.
From a physiotherapist’s perspective, my main interest is in treating this condition with exercise. Your doctor will direct you in medical therapies to help manage the pain but physical exercise is also vital to successful treatment. Exercise can not only lower pain levels but significantly improve your overall wellbeing. Your training program should include both aerobic and supervised strength based activities. For the aerobic component I would recommend a brisk thirty minute walk each day while ensuring you stay well hydrated and use supportive walking shoes. Your strength program should target large muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, gluts, back and shoulders. This can be achieved through simple body resistance exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups but basic resistance equipment such as stretch bands can be useful also. A strength program should be performed 2-3 days per weeks with about 10 repetitions of each exercise. It is important that your strength exercises are initially supervised and progressed by a physiotherapist or exercise professional to ensure they are being performed both accurately and effectively.
The challenge with beating a condition such as fibromyalgia is the effect it often has on a person’s state of mind. We know fibromyalgia is often associated with elevated levels of stress, anxiety and even depression, which makes finding motivation to exercise extremely difficult. If you can manage to push through these initially difficult stages and get established in a good exercise routine, your improved well being will serve as motivation in itself.
Nick Black is a Registered Physiotherapist at Sun City Physiotherapy Winfield. He can be contacted at the Winfield clinic (250.766.2544) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.