If you have Fibromyalgia, you’re not alone! Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that affects almost 10 million Americans, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association, and is characterized by fatigue and widespread pain in various tender points in the body. Although exercise is one of the recommended therapies to help with fibromyalgia symptoms, the pain the condition causes can often make it difficult for you to start or continue with an exercise program, such as running, even if you’ve been an active runner before the onset of symptoms.
Even today, Doctors don’t know what causes fibromyalgia, but they believe it may involve a variety of factors, including genetics, infections or physical or emotional trauma. The pain from fibromyalgia may be caused by an increased sensitivity in your brain to pain signals. Repeated nerve stimulation causes your brain to change, with an increase in chemicals like neurotransmitters that signal pain and the tendency for your brain’s pain receptors to develop a “memory” of the pain and overreact. Symptoms of fibromyalgia may vary according to weather, stress, time of day or physical activity.
If you have fibromyalgia, aerobic activity can be one of the most effective ways to deal with your symptoms. Exercise can help with pain relief, due to the release of hormone-like substances called endorphins that act like analgesics, linking to opiate-receptors in your brain to block pain, something often called the “runner’s high.” In a German study published in Clinical Rheumatology in 2009, researchers investigated the effects of jogging, walking, cycling or swimming on fibromyalgia patients over 12 weeks and found that there was a significant decrease in perceived pain compared to a sedentary control group.
Now one thing to remember, engaging in physical activity, can at first produce more pain incidents then by not doing them. But doing it regularly often decreases symptoms over time. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you design a suitable program that also should include stretching, good posture, and relaxation exercises. Keep your activity to an even level and try not to overdo it on days you’re feeling better, which can ultimately make you have more bad days with increased pain and fatigue.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the best way to start your running program is with short sessions of gentle, low-impact aerobic activity like walking or swimming, then increase the length of sessions gradually to 20 to 30 minutes. Aerobic exercise is an activity that increases your pulse rate to between 60 percent and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, calculated by subtracting your age from 220.
Fibromyalgia patients, however, may need to start at the low end of this heart rate range. If you were a runner before the onset of your symptoms, you may find you need to switch to a jog instead, since high-impact exercise has been known to worsen fibromyalgia symptoms. Rheumatologist Ronenn Roubenoff, M.D., adds that you will have to stick with an exercise program for about six weeks, exercising two or three times per week, to start feeling or seeing any benefit. Keep in mind, one thing you should NOT do is to “Run Through The Pain”. Most of us are competitors at heart. You wouldn’t be reading this if you were not looking to get back into your running game in the first place. But think of this as beginning again. You have to re-learn how your body reacts to what you’re asking of it. Then you have to adapt and “Pull Back” on your impulses to run at a faster gait then you should be doing in starting out. Remember, your body is dealing with something new and you need to know how it’s going to react to this new condition that it has to deal with.
Then you can incorporate a routine around what you can do now, anticipating on what you will be able to do later!
First and foremost: consult with your physician in case there are any necessary do’s and don’ts you need to follow. And what set limits that may need to be put in place.
Select exercise plans that you will enjoy and do consistently. Consistent exercise is important in maintaining pain management and fighting fatigue. If you are experiencing a flare of pain or fatigue, you should do your best to make sure you’re not overdoing it when you start off on your running program. Remember, even minimal activity starting out, can help reduce stress and raise energy levels.
Focus on strength training. Fibromyalgia can cause a loss of muscle tone due to both the medications used in treatment and a lack of exercise caused by pain and fatigue. Strength training two times a week will help tone your muscles and keep you strong, and this, in turn, helps your body build resistance to flares and their associated symptoms. This will also help you build up your body’s resources so that it can stand the increased strain you’re asking of it.
Running/Jogging, even walking at a brisk pace are exercises that can reduce your stress levels and lead to relaxation. Stress reduction and relaxation are often key to fighting anxiety, depression, pain and insomnia, which can go a long way to helping your Fibromyalgia ease up. Along with running for an endorphin release, exercises such as yoga or Tai Chi offer a combination of physical activity and stress reduction, and as such, they can be key tools for the management of fibromyalgia.
There is a great deal of information out there that states people with fibromyalgia can never run or perform much exercise, but that is NOT the case. If you learn how to manage your episodes of pain while your running, you can accomplish quite a bit. Much of the ability to run will stem from a person’s “Level of Pain Tolerance”, or LPT. So, exercise/training levels will vary from one person to another, remember, each of us are unique and our pain threshold is something that only each individual will need to discover. But doing nothing but relying on pain medication will not help you to keep your fibromyalgia under control. Getting your muscles moving again and feeling better about yourself now that you’re doing something, can have a positive outlook about your ailment.
We’ll be looking for you out on the trail, happy running!