Living with fibromyalgia also means living a challenging life. From work to parenting duties, to household chores to leisure, you will need to do a lot of adjustments. Being physically active may be the last thing you want to do. But managing your condition by being active allows you to have a sense of control and better self-esteem to add quality to your life.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder accompanied by muscle pain and fatigue. If you have this, you may experience chronic, widespread body pain. People with fibromyalgia have tender points on their body, which hurt when there’s pressure.
There’s no known exact cause of fibromyalgia. Experts believe it is related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body.
If the nervous system has been overwhelmed for a long period of time, the symptoms of fibromyalgia do appear. Things that can influence the overwhelm state include lack of movement, artificial/processed foods and fluids, poor sleep, high stress, low sense of purpose in life, and minimal healthy social support.
Although, the medical literature states there is no current cure for fibromyalgia, we find people do get better by enhancing the 9 forces of life. One of these is movement/exercise, with a specific component called strength training.
Strength Training — What the Studies Say
What happens when you exercise is that your fitness and function are improved, your physical and emotional stress is relieved and your confidence and self-esteem are better. When you put all of these together, the chronic pain cycle associated with fibromyalgia stops.
Strength training ups your muscle strength, which then helps you do your daily activities better. If you have stronger muscles, you need less effort to be able to perform actions.
It may look counter-intuitive to stress your muscles on purpose if you have muscle pain. However, strength training can be tailored according to your needs, and studies show that people with fibromyalgia can benefit from doing it regularly.
Busch AJ and colleagues reviewed 3 studies that looked at wellness, symptoms, and fitness in women with fibromyalgia. In these studies, 54 women with fibromyalgia did resistance training and 53 women with fibromyalgia did not do resistance training. The women who did resistance training did supervised resistance training sessions using exercise equipment, free weights, and body weight, exercised 2 to 3 times a week for 16 to 21 weeks.
These are what the researchers found:
- Women who did resistance training rated their well-being 25 units better while women who did not do resistance training rated their well-being 8 units better.
- Women who did resistance training rated their well-being 17 units better than those who did not do resistance training.
- Women who did resistance training rated their ability to function 6 units better than women who did not do resistance training.
- Women who did resistance training rated their pain 2.5 units better than women who did not do resistance training.
- Women who did resistance training had 2 fewer tender points than women who did not do resistance training.
- Women who did resistance training could lift 27 kilograms more than women who did not do resistance training.
The authors concluded that resistance training for 16 to 21 weeks improves the ability to do normal activities as well as pain, tenderness, muscle strength and overall well-being .
In another study, Alexandro Andrade and colleagues conducted a systematic review of the effects of strength training in patients with fibromyalgia.
Twenty-two eligible studies showed that ST reduces the number of tender points, fatigue, depression, and anxiety, and improves sleep quality and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. The intervention period ranged from 3 to 21 weeks, with sessions performed 2 times a week in 81.81% of the studies, at initial intensities of 40% of 1-repetition maximum. The repetitions ranged from 4 to 20, with no specific protocol defined for strength training in fibromyalgia.
The main results included reduction in pain, fatigue, number of tender points, depression, and anxiety, with increased functional capacity and quality of life. The evidence states that strength training is beneficial and can be used to treat fibromyalgia .
Why Reformer Pilates is a Great Exercise for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia patients can start exercising by starting at a slow pace. However, make sure your pain symptoms and fatigue are under control first.
In the 2015 Arthritis Research and Therapy, Kim Dupree Jones presents a number of helpful advice for fibromyalgia patients .
- Have a well-defined training goal in mind and focus on training consistently rather than intensively.
- Minimize eccentric muscle loading (a major cause of DOMS) by limiting overhead arm work and exercises done with limbs farther away from the body’s midline.
- Do not attempt to do strength training during a symptom flare.
- Do not attempt high-intensity, power-based workouts (e.g., plyometrics, CrossFit, bootcamps).
- Limit pain-provoking postures by working within the natural joint lines; this reduces the risk of aggravating tendinopathies or overextending hypermobile joints.
- Avoid the urge to overtrain on days you feel better.
- Be proactive by providing FM-specific exercise advice to a fitness trainer.
- Work out at home with DVDs especially formulated for FM patients.
- Link an exercise with an activity you like or do regularly to increase the likelihood that exercise will become a life-long habit.
Beginner Reformer Pilates is an ideal strength training exercise because it’s a low-impact exercise and focuses on working the key muscles without causing whole-body fatigue. You’re using your back and abdominal muscles in a low impact way. Pilates doesn’t worsen the symptoms which can greatly improve your sense of well-being.
Another reason why Reformer Pilates is an ideal workout if you have Fibromyalgia is that it is customisable. The individualised and versatile nature of Reformer Pilates makes it beneficial for fibromyalgia patients. If you decide to start with Pilates, it’s best to work with a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist so you can get the program that is best for you.
At the end of the day, it’s still crucial to stay physically active. You can start low and slow to help keep symptoms from flaring up. So go ahead and take that first step to recovery. Find a Best Body Physio & Pilates studio near you today and book in for a complimentary Pilates Body Assessment!
- Busch AJ, Webber SC, Richards RS, Bidonde J, Schachter CL, Schafer LA, Danyliw A, Sawant A, Dal Bello-Haas V, Rader T, Overend TJ. Resistance exercise training for fibromyalgia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD010884. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010884
- Andrade, A., Azevedo, R.D., Steffens, R.D., Sieczkowska, S.M., Tartaruga, L.A., & Vilarino, G.T. (2018). A systematic review of the effects of strength training in patients with fibromyalgia: clinical outcomes and design considerations. Advances in rheumatology, 58 1, 36.
- Jones KD. Recommendations for resistance training in patients with fibromyalgia. Arthritis Res Ther. 2015;17(1):258. Published 2015 Sep 17. doi:10.1186/s13075-015-0782-3