10.24.2017

How to take the pain out of exercising with fibromyalgia, chronic Lyme and similar conditions

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This is a guest post by Andrea Wool, creator of Autoimmune Strong, an online fitness program for people with autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, chronic Lyme and other types of chronic pain. This article contains affiliate links. 

We all know exercise is good for us. I haven’t yet met anybody who would refute that point. Especially doctors. When you go for your yearly checkup, they always remind you to exercise, right?

How to take the pain out of exercising with fibromyalgia, chronic Lyme & similar conditions | Fed Up with Fatigue

However, exercise can be too much for people struggling with autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease and other chronic pain or chronic fatigue disorders. I know that from firsthand experience. You see, I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease and fibromyalgia, and for people like me, exercise can actually be a bad thing. It can aggravate the body and send it immediately into a pain flare.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. I would exercise, feel great, exercise more, push myself a little harder and then suddenly, I would lose my energy, feel totally wiped out and sometimes even develop a fever. My body would ache and feel like it was on fire. Even climbing the stairs would be a challenge. All because I ran an extra 5 minutes on the treadmill when I was feeling good. But yet, my doctors continued to tell me to exercise because it was good for me.

Technically, they’re right. Research has demonstrated over and over again that exercise is extremely beneficial for people with autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and other chronic pain or chronic fatigue disorders. Some of the proven benefits include:

  • Enhanced overall physical and mental health
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increased energy levels
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduction in pain
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased or restored range of joint motion, even in individuals with chronic arthritic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Increased muscular strength and endurance, even in individuals with muscular or joint degeneration
  • General reduction in overall symptoms

So why does something that should be good for us leave us in so much pain? And how do people struggling with chronic pain reap the benefits of exercise without crashing?

Autoimmune Strong is an online strength-training fitness program specifically designed for people struggling with chronic pain. It was created by Andrea Wool who has fibromyalgia, Hashimoto's thyroiditis and celiac.

Andrea Wool, creator of Autoimmune Strong

Research has also demonstrated that physical and psychological stress can aggravate the symptoms of an autoimmune disorder and other such chronic conditions. Exercise produces elevated cortisol levels, which stresses the body and can trigger an immune system attack or a flare-up of pain. This is the reason (in simple terms) that we feel terrible after exercise. I call this the “exercise to flare-up cycle.” We exercise, we have a flare-up, we rest and recover, and when we are finally feeling good again, we go back to exercise, and it starts all over again.

But the reality is not all exercise elevates stress and cortisol. We are taught by the fitness industry that exercise must be hard. We must push ourselves to run faster, longer, sweat more, push harder, lift heavier… and so we do so in the gym. We feel that if we don’t work hard, we didn’t do it right. No pain, no gain, right?

WRONG! Let’s change the conversation about exercise. We do need to work hard to exercise but not in the way that I described above. You can get strong without crushing yourself in the process. I believe exercise can be healthy and nourishing to the body.

So let’s break the exercise to flare-up cycle. Here are my Autoimmune Strong Steps to Exercising To Regain Health:

1. Stop Focusing on Weight Loss As The Goal

Often, we push ourselves hard in the gym because we want to lose weight. However, I believe excess weight is not the actual health problem. Excess weight is just another symptom – a symptom of a body out of balance – and a body in pain is indeed a body out of balance. So, I encourage you to prioritize getting your body healthy rather than losing weight. It will be way more satisfying, I promise, and as your body comes into better balance, the weight will come off as a happy side effect!

2. Focus on Exercising for Health

Instead of exercising for weight loss or as punishment for making bad food choices, look at it as a way to make your body healthy. Exercise has a long list of great effects on the body: It can boost your immune system, give you better sleep, increase your healthy heart function, reduce body aches and pains, and give you more energy and zest for life. In some cases, it has even reduced the effects of autoimmune and fibromyalgia disease! And, the proper exercise will make your body stronger and more capable of doing life activities like playing with your kids and grandkids, or walking the aisles of the supermarket, or trudging through snow in the dead of winter.

3. Skip The Endless Cardio

We have been taught that cardio (running, walking, elliptical machines, etc.) is best for us to lose weight but it’s not. Actually it elevates our cortisol and inflammation and can trigger a symptom flare-up. So, instead of spending 45 minutes on the elliptical, you might be more effective with 20 minutes of proper strength and flexibility training.

4. Build Up Stamina Over Time

Start with the very basics of strengthening moves, and over time, you can gradually build upon them. Your body will adapt to more intensity over time if you start gently and increase gradually over time.

5. Always Move Your Body – Every Day

Lying on the couch all day is not the best way to take care of your body. Even on days when you don’t exercise, gentle stretching, foam rolling, a walk around your kitchen or a simple forward fold will help you feel better and recover faster.

6. Consider Other Lifestyle Approaches to Complement Your Exercise Routine

Eating non-processed foods, getting good sleep, practicing the art of relaxation and deep breathing, and finding time in your life for some joy and laughter will help support your body when it is under stress.

7. Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t fret about not doing enough or working hard enough. Celebrate your successes, give yourself realistic goals and try to avoid negative self-talk. Treat yourself like your own best friend.

*****

So, maybe you have read this list, and you know exactly how to apply my tips. Go for it! Your body will thank you.

However, maybe these tips feel overwhelming, and you don’t know where to start. I encourage you to check out Autoimmune Strong, an exercise program designed specifically for people with fibromyalgia, chronic Lyme and similar conditions. Autoimmune Strong provides online workout videos that you can do in the comfort of your own home, so that you get the guided strength and flexibility training your body needs, as well as the Autoimmune Strong Food Guide, which helps you learn what foods to eat and what to avoid in order to lose weight and feel great.

Click here to learn more about Autoimmune Strong and to access a FREE 7-day trial. Or, enter your email address here (scroll to the bottom of the page), and get a free Autoimmune Strong workout video delivered straight to your inbox.

If you want to break the exercise to flare-up cycle, let’s start today. Follow these tips, change your mindset about exercise and food, and get ready to feel better.

Andrea Wool is the founder and creator of Autoimmune Strong, an online fitness membership service designed specifically for people with autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain. As a nutritional therapy practitioner and a personal trainer, she has developed a unique food and movement program that has helped countless individuals manage their symptoms through diet and exercise. To learn more about Autoimmune Strong and how it can help you, please visit www.getautoimmunestrong.com.

Now it’s your turn: If you have fibromyalgia and/or chronic Lyme, have you been able to consistently exercise? What are your biggest challenges when it comes to exercise? 

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Comments

  1. This is such a hard one. I have fibro and EDS (Hypermobility syndrome) and I am supposed to aerobic exercise. I use a stationary bike and do some basic physio stretches. However, it is Always painful. The act itself is painful from the get go and I exercise until the pain gets too Much. I have been able to exercise more, very slowly over time, but man, it is never fun. I blame the EDS because of the joint pain. So have yet to figure out how to get the pain out of it. Managed to get up to 20 minutes though after six months of consistent effort.

  2. Such a helpful and much needed article about the confusion around exercise when you have a chronic illness. I would love you to link this article up at Fibro Friday this week.

  3. Elaine Schoepf says:

    TENs unit, needling, myofascial stretching massage. Pure Emu oil in coconut oil helps with the pain.

    I know some like DMSO – I didn’t notice a change when I used it.

    I flare after massage or any exercise with nausea, fever, chills, pain but most bothersome to me is fatigue.
    I have to rest immediately to keep it from taking over. ( if I vacuumed for a half hour I may have to rest the rest of the day)

    Last year I was able to walk my dog regularly for three months. I was also using CBD oil and tiny amounts of medical marijuana edibles to aid in sleep. Something changed drastically after that time. My issues with blood pressure, blood sugar and big belly, swollen face hands and feet ( which came after the viral event that triggered my cfids) began to resolve. I have had to lower my meds! So I have baggy skin left after the swelling. Lol. I can deal with that.

    I wish you all well!
    Elaine

  4. Laura says:

    I think something really important is missing here. #8 Love What Makes You Move. I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, anxiety, ddd with disc replacement, etc. Diagnosed with most in 2007. I could not bring myself to exercise except for hiking in the forest, which didn’t happen often because amping up to leave the house (anxiety) was hard.
    I love nature, live in the country, always loved colors and texture and plants around me. I don’t have any idea why it took me so long to realize that I love gardening so much. Did you know there are actually antidepressant microbes in soil? When I’m gardening I’m not stressed, I’m only thinking about what I’m doing. My grown up family loves that I’ve discovered this valuable hobby. I grew up in a gardening family and had some nice, establish land scaping on our place. But I started adding and adding. Can you imagine how many steps I’ve taken each day, working over 2 acres and up and down hills? Even packing water from time to time. I’m very careful to use good posture and wear shoes that are good for my feet. Not flip flops. They increase my pain tremendously. But all of tromping around and digging in the dirt has been my best medicine yet. Even lost 15 lbs in first year. Now increased my gardening to indoors. Its so contagious. Find a good garden app for daily encouragement.
    👍So look around and notice your surroundings and think of something you can do that moves your body and soul. Dance around your apartment each day, gently tho, if thats what moves you. Do whatever it takes. I’m proof it helps. I’m nearly 60 years old and a great grandma. Love what makes you move. I’m rambling so I’ll stop. My little opinion. Hope it makes sense enough to help.

    • Laura, thank you for adding these thoughts to the conversation. You mention so many important points here- love, sunshine, nature, dirt- all of these are so important for healing! Love nurtures our soul, sunshine nature and dirt nurtures our bodies. Keep doing what you are doing, you rock!

  5. Janis Gustafson says:

    Donna, I just learned about climate scrambler therapy! It is offered at Mayo clinic for people with crps! Are you familiar with this treatment? I have had Fibro 23 years with Lyme complications! Pain level has increased during last year and also frustration as no local Dr. Knows how to treat and Don,t want to try anything that researchers offer like low dose naltrexone (so) a NY ideas??

  6. Veronica says:

    I used to love yoga – basic, right?! But since having fibromyalgia I seem to “hit a wall” when doing any exercises; walking, stretching, etc. My muscles seriously turn to concrete, losing all elasticity and becoming painfully hard. I use a tens unit (a new thing for me), essential oils for inflammation, ibuprofen, etc and I can’t seem to get over this hurdle. I also suffer myofacial knots in my calves/knees, hips and arms. Any suggestions?

    • Irene says:

      Try DMSO it’s the only thing that works for me

    • Veronica, thanks for sharing. Yes, that feeling of “hitting a wall” that you describe after exercise- that’s actually exercise induced symptom flare-up. This is exactly why I created Autoimmune Strong- to provide strengthening exercises that you can do without hitting the wall. Give it a try!

    • Tea O'Muley says:

      I have been helped by Salt Room Therapy. It has reduced my overall pain and inflammation. If you have one in your area, it is worth a try. I no longer take ibuprofen daily and I am sleeping better. It even cured my Plantar Fasciitis.

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