For anybody who hasn't heard of or worked with anybody that has been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, the NHS website defines it as:
"A long-term condition that causes pain all over the body".
As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also have:
increased sensitivity to pain
extreme tiredness (fatigue)
problems with mental processes (known as "fibro-fog"), such as problems with memory and concentration
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
This complex condition is something I am coming across with Personal Training clients, I asked one of my clients if she would shed some more light on the condition itself and how exercise and working with a personal trainer has helped her manage her Fibro.
Q. What's it like living with Fibro?
"Fibro is, to put basically, a lot of widespread pain with fatigue and mental health issues. There are a so many symptoms that you are never quite sure if something is wrong or if it is another 'fibro' symptom".
"For me the main symptoms are chronic pain, chronic fatigue, depression and IBS. On their own, hard enough to deal with, but all together sometimes literally debilitating. When I was first diagnosed it was a pretty scary place and although not degenerative, you never know what will cause a flare of symptoms. Day to day, I am in pain and can tell when I am busy or stressed and I just want to sleep usually".
Q. What made you decide to try personal training?
"I knew that I was carrying some extra weight and that it wasn’t helping my pain but putting extra pressure on my joints which were already experiencing pain. I knew that I needed one on one support to understand how much I could and should push myself to benefit but not hurt myself. The key to losing weight was to enable myself to push and be able to do more in general living".
Q. How is exercise helping you manage your Fibro?
"Exercise is helping my muscles to understand the difference between stretching myself and being in “fibro” pain. It is helping build up my strength and also my perseverance. It is helping me to test what I can do in a protected and safe environment rather than on a walk for instance where I could be stuck half way around a reservoir and not be able to get back to the car or a bench".
Q. What improvements have you noticed since you started working with a PT?
"I notice when I am actually tired from exercise and what is fatigue or daily life tiredness which means that when I am out and about, I know when I genuinely need to stop. I can also carry more around the house and shopping (very important). I also feel more confident in my body being able to cope with what I am feeling".
Q. Would you recommend a PT to other Fibro sufferers?
"A PT has helped me to have the confidence to try exercise and to lose weight. I have the confidence that I am not going to physically hurt myself. I also don’t have to make decisions myself on what weights to do, how many times to do things".
"Working with a PT means that sessions can be adapted to my needs based on what is hurting that day, how tired or not I am and which moves I am struggling with which means that I don’t dread going if I am not feeling myself".
Q. What do you enjoy most about your sessions?
"There are two main things I enjoy the most.
1. Is the genuine feeling of toning up and being able to achieve more each session.
2. Is that I get to have a good moan about my day and Emma should definitely consider a side job of counselling. It is a real good laugh during sessions".
Q. Did you feel nervous about exercising with a trainer?
"Yes. I had the mental image of gym trainers in the media who would push me until I fell apart and would tell me I couldn’t eat or drink anything I enjoyed if I wanted to succeed and I thought it would be in a place where there would be loads of gym bodies judging me. I was wrong".
Q. How was the training tailored to your symptoms?
"Training can be tailored in terms of how many breaks I take and how long as well as the weight of weights being used. It has also been tailored to protect certain areas when they have been particularly painful".
Q. How do you feel after a training session?
"Straight after I feel exhausted and sweaty but usually empowered about how much I have managed to achieve and how far I have come. The day after I am usually quite bright but then I move and realise what I did the night before but again usually perk up when I think of how much I can do with Fibro which I thought would prevent me from doing so much when I was first coming to terms with it".
What I have learnt as a PT...
Working with clients that suffer with Fibro, chronic pain and fatigue has taught me that no two days for these clients are the same. Levels of pain and tiredness vary hugely and it takes trust between the PT and the client to know where things need to be adapted to make sure that we're working the best way we can around the symptoms the client feels on the day.
Initially I spent a lot of time with clients working on stretching and mobility, seeing how the body moves and allowing the brain and the body to communicate with one another. For people who suffer with constant pain it often feels that their brain has numbed or quietened the connection to the body because of the constant messages of pain it receives.
With a lot of movements it can be a case of trial and error to begin with, allowing the client to feel and understand good and bad pain.
Knowing that you are supporting clients to help manage their pain and allow them to live more active lives outside of your 1-2-1 sessions is incredibly rewarding.
If you have any questions or suffer from Fibro and would like to discuss training with me, please don't hesitate to get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
A huge thank you to my client Vicky for being so open and honest and for being an absolute joy to train!