One of the major paradoxes of living with a condition like fibromyalgia is that despite the inability to move, one of the best ways to obtain relief is through movement itself. But how can a person achieve this? For many patients, just the simple acts of sitting up in bed, going to the bathroom or opening the mail, represent major (and painful) accomplishments.
While the idea of exercise may be laughable to most fibromyalgia patients, especially during periods of flare-up, there are solutions to be found through simple movements. In her new book, Fibromyalgia – Simple Relief Through Movement, author Stacie Bigelow, helps to explain why movement is important, what movements can be performed and how they will help the FM patient.
One of the main qualities of this book is that Bigelow is a Fibromyalgia patient herself, which helps the reader to feel reassured that she knows exactly what she is talking about. This is not some self-confessed exercise junkie, urging FM patients to ‘just do it’. Bigelow brings compassion, empathy and expert knowledge to the subject, in a very readable combination.
Here is one example: “Before you resign yourself to a life of constant pain and inactivity, ask yourself, “has anyone ever told me how to use movement to ease my pain? Have I ever been given suggestions of how to use movement specifically for fibromyalgia?” If the answer is no, you’re not alone…whether you are an exercise veteran or consider changing TV channels a workout, there is hope!” Bigelow goes on to say that by the time a person is done with the book, they will be able to manage their fibromyalgia, figure out what movements are helpful, not to mention what movements to avoid, as well as ways to reduce pain.
From the start of the book, Bigelow encourages readers to put their preconceptions aside, clear their minds and try to adopt a new (or adjusted) attitude. She says, ‘Remain open to the possibility that your experience of pain and movement can be different. Imagine a door opening in your mind, letting fresh air into the stagnant room of chronic pain.”
Bigelow lends an entirely new perspective to the subject of FM and movement, for example, the author devotes an entire section of the book to the subject of rest, which may at first seem strange given the title of the book. However, as she explains it, “rest is a crucial part of movement.”
Bigelow shares the many experiences she had through her practice as a health educator, researcher and counselor. Her anecdotes lend depth and lightness to the text. The author herself best summarizes the philosophy of the book: “Find something your body loves to do and you love to do with your body. For the most part, the rest should fall into place.”
I recently chatted with Stacie Bigelow about her book. Here’s what she had to say:
ImmuneSupport.com: How do you explain to people with FM that movement is actually beneficial to them?
Bigelow: It is very helpful to give them info about physiologically what is happening inside with FM. Once they understand the information, in turn I explain the physiological reasons why exercise done properly is helpful. Then they get it and why they have to do it.
ImmuneSupport.com: Where do you begin with a newly diagnosed patient?
Bigelow: I determine how much activity they already get. How much sleep, activity, stretching, aerobic, muscle-conditioning, etc. I assess what they are currently doing. Patients are usually doing things that are not working. People have lots of issues with their relationship to exercise and the body. They think they have to perform exercise everyday and that they should ‘make’ themselves do it. FM patients can’t be given traditional exercise guidelines and just go to the gym.
ImmuneSupport.com: Please explain the difference between ‘exercise’ and ‘activity’.
Bigelow: The difference is in the intensity of what you’re doing. For example, walking is either activity or exercise – the main difference is how intensively are you doing it. For example, grocery shopping – walking here is activity, walking from the car to mall is activity. But, when you walk with a friend for the purpose of exercise – this is much quicker, with no stops or distractions. This is exercise.
ImmuneSupport.com: What other kind of movements have you discovered to be effective?
Bigelow: Swimming is tremendously helpful – water exercise. Also, tai chi is good, as it gets to the core of FM. It causes an increase in sympathetic activity, and helps to restore balance in the autonomic nervous system; also poses in yoga, meditation, stress management, breathing, restoring of balance. These are all very helpful.
ImmuneSupport.com: What kind of beneficial daily activities can people do easily?
Bigelow: Examples of activities are: housecleaning, shopping, work related walking (such as for a nurse or waitress), going to the bathroom, getting a coffee or water refill, taking a fax.
ImmuneSupport.com: In the book, you emphasize the importance of apparently small activities. Can you explain this?
Bigelow: A good analogy is this: think of muscles like a cement truck. The truck is always in motion, even at a stoplight. If it stops, the concrete sets. This image is helpful in reminding people that muscles do start to stiffen if they’re not warm and moving. So, activity is important.
ImmuneSupport.com: How much total activity do you suggest?
Bigelow: For healthy, normal people 30 minutes of activity daily. For FM patients – at least double that – 60 minutes total. People benefit from gentle, daily movement. The more sedentary a person is, the more pain they will feel.
However, if a FM patient is in an acute flare – deal with the flare first. If you are really in tremendous pain, this goes back to the need for sleep improvements. Of the people I’ve seen, maybe only 5% of those who were in a flare had really good sleep. 95 percent needed to find ways for sleep to improve. Then, motivation, interest and the ability to increase activity is much higher.
ImmuneSupport.com: How long have you had FM?
Bigelow: 12 years approximately.
ImmuneSupport.com: If there is one thing you could say to fellow FM sufferers about movement what would that be?
Bigelow: Find something your body loves to do and you love to do with your body. For the most part the rest should fall into place. A huge part of lack of motivation is that people are doing boring and awful things. They should try to further the relationship with their body. FM patients feel betrayed, at war, and frustrated with their body. In its essence, managing FM successfully is realizing you and your body are in the same team. Work together as a team, not as adversaries.
(Editor’s Note: This book is available for purchase in the ImmuneSupport store, product code BK85. Also, look for Stacie as a guest in out chat room, in the very near future.)