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 had spent the first year of her daughter’s life in bed. Every day, for a year, unable to care for her baby girl.

When I met her, she was in much better shape. Her daughter was no longer a baby. 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 just north of Toronto. She was initially assigned to work with a young, female trainer. It didn’t go well. The young trainer had a solid knowledge of how to help people get lean, fit & healthy. Unfortunately, she 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 days 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 our first meeting, I had only a general knowledge of fibromyalgia and had never worked with a Fibro client.  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 in more depth and come back to her with a plan.

A few days later, we met and talked again. At that second meeting, we discussed my findings, clarified a few more issues and outlined what my plan for her fitness training would include. After about half an hour of chit-chat, we began our workout. It was very slow at the beginning. Very slow. In fact, it took us almost 3 months before I started to notice a ‘real’ change in her body.

After a further 3 months, she had training harder than some of my non-Fibro clients. More importantly, her day to day life improved drastically. Less pain. Stronger. Fitter. Healthier.

NOTE – 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’re gonna hate you, but eventually, as they get better, 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 outcomewas 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). TheST-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), andST (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.

Conclusions

  • Exercise is effective for fibromyalgia pain relief
  • Starting an exercise program WILL be painful for a Fibro client
  • Fibro clients should NOT be trained like every other client
  • Fibro clients need to be willing to push themselves
  • Fibro clients need to help their trainers understand how their body is responding to the workouts
  • Trainers need to be very, very sensitive to how their clients are responding
  • Fibro clients should expect this that fitness training might be very difficult at the beginning of their journey

 

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