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Why they keep telling you to exercise and move

So many of you reading this will have inevitably been told to exercise to help reduce your fibromyalgia pain. There are tonnes of articles out there, even more out of shape doctors recommending it and of course every man,woman and child telling you it will magically help. But with so many talking about it, why is it that nobody actually tells you why it will help? And if you don’t understand why it will help, then you’re not going to really want to give it a shot.

The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system influences the function of internal organs. It is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions such as the heart rate, digestion, rate of respiration, etc and because of this, there are two “modes” so to speak, that the body can be in; Parasympathetic or Sympathetic.

th (1)The Parasympathetic is our “rest and digestion” mode. It relaxes muscles, makes the stomach move and increases secretions for digestion, lowers the heart rate and importantly for any one with chronic pain, makes the body anabolic  (repairs and builds cells).

The Sympathetic is the near opposite of the parasympathetic. It raises blood pressure, slows down digestion, diverts blood away from the stomach and into the muscles and makes the body Catabolic (breaks down cells for resouces). This divison of the autonomic nervous system has been dubbed the “Fight or flight” mode and is responsible for keeping us alive over millions of years by handling short bursts of stress.

Now lets say its 50,000 years ago and we are early humans out hunting. Our lives are very different, our main sources of stress equates to reproducing, finding food and not being food for something else. A huge animal jumps out and our sympathetic “fight or flight” mode prepares our body to deal with the threat. In an instant our body floods with  adrenaline which triggers the liver to dump its sugathr reserves into the blood stream, our blood gets diverted away from the stomach so as to not vomit should we need to run and digestion is switched off, because there are more pressing issues to deal with at the minute than the berries we ate 2 hours ago. Our heart rate increases and our body is primed to either fight or run away. This system has kept us alive for a long time and is designed for short bursts only.

Fast forward to modern day and our main sources of stress are ever growing and constant. We have bills to pay, relationship troubles, more bills, jobs, deteriorating health conditions and the list just goes on. Now whether it is physical stress like say a near miss on the roads, chemical stress from all of medication we take and processed foods we eat or emotional stress in the forms of money worries. The body just cannot tell the difference between all of the different stressors so it will do what it is designed to do; switch on that sympathetic mode. As we end up in a sympathetic dominance from constant exposure to different stressors over long periods of time,  we  start to encounter problems as this method of dealing with stress is only meant for short bursts. Constant sympathetic dominance will interfere with the production of serotonin in the stomach as blood is now being diverted away, Leading to depression.With digestion being suppressed as the body deals with a perceived threat you can expect the onset of Bowl issues. Stuck in a constant catabolic state means although you go to sleep you can be sure it is going to be un-rested as you cant build cells if your busy breaking them down. Elevated levels of cortisol over a long period of time result in high levels of anxiety , fear, disruption of the hormonal system, impaired memory and cognition and eventually leads to burn out and fatigue. In a sympathetic state your blood clots easier incase of injury, this is not a good trait have all of the time.Hmm all of this sounds a lot like some of the common fibromyalgia symptoms doesn’t it.

If you look at all of the modalities that help with chronic pain, Lyrica, anti-depressants, CBT therapy, massage and the things people also turn to to fight pain like marijuana and alcohol, what do they all have in common? They all dampen the sympathetic nervous system and help switch to the parasympathetic mode, exercise is slightly different though. It is a physical stress whilst preformed but once it is finished you can physically see it has ended, you calm your breathing down start breathing through your nose, stimulating the parasympathetic nerve ending that reside there.


Cerebrospinal Fluid

Cerebrospinal Fluid maintains the electrolytic environment within the central nervous system by cleansing metabolic waste products from the brain and spinal cord.

spinal fluidThis process plays a huge role in stabilising the Systemic acid-based balance of the Central Nervous System (CNS). CSF continually rinses the brain and spinal cord to cleanse and remove waste and toxins that would other wise negatively effect your health.  In some individuals the flow of CSF can become sluggish, especially in those who suffer from chronic pain conditions. Generally sufferers have poor mobility and this sluggish flow has been implicated in the cause of many degenerative diseases.

When the spinal fluid becomes sluggish, it is known as Cerbrospinal Fluid Stasis (CSFS) and is commonly found in those with poor posture, but I’m sure you already saw that coming.  The lifestyles of those with chronic pain, poor posture and low mobility caused from constant daily pain, can create an environment that easily causes CSFS. In recent years this has been associated with vertebral subluxation complex and causing restricted respiratory function.

Once we become more active we can move the way we were designed to and we can start to stimulate the flow of CSF, as well as the lymph system (that’s a whole other post in itself). When you break it right down, we are designed to move and the sad truth is, most of us either don’t or cant. Those who suffer from chronic pain generally cannot partake in movements that encourage proper flow of CSF because of limited mobility, fear of injury and the fact that most movements that promote healthy flow are high impact, such as running.

Now everyone with fibromyalgia suffers slightly differently and there are some who tolerate it well, and others who flare up and end up in bed for days. It is generally those who have the most movement dysfunction who suffer the most. If your knees do not track properly or the glute med does not stabilise the pelvis properly, then jumping into exercise with leave you injured and with pain being a stress, leads to more sympathetic dominance. I could easily run a marathon with a broken leg if given enough morphine, but I wouldn’t be a pretty sight the next day. This is why a graded approach is necessary to introduce you slowly.

In my studio before a new client does any form of exercise we fix any and all dysfunction and after about 3 weeks can easily add 15 mins of exercise every session. But not everyone will have the means to fix their dysfunctions, so a graded approach is needed. Starting at as little as a warm up twice per week and trying to add 3 mins of light exercise every week, you can yield some impressive results.

But I urge you reading to understand the difference between mechanical and neuropathic pain. With all the pregabalin in the world, exercise or massages will not touch the mechanical pain of an overactive Psoas muscle pulling your spine into lateral flexion. This is why I am so big on dysfunctions. If you correct the body so it moves properly and doesn’t compensate it will not cause chronic fatigue and pain.

I have seen some amazing story’s in my time from severe ME sufferers going back to work, to people with hips that dislocate during sleep, who 12 weeks later are surfing in Mexico……. And obviously myself. I was pretty close to the end a few years ago until I gave up waiting for the NHS to help and figured out why I had fatigue and chronic pain.

Like I always say; a balanced body is a pain free one.

Gentle hugs



  • Debby sillito

    I do a fair bit of walking each week… By that I mean that I walk, an average of, about 5 blocks 3 times a week. My problem is that when I do any kind of excersize, my lower back and hips tighten so much that I have to stop and stretch them out again. I can only do that a few times before that stops working. I have tried everything and my Dr and specialists can’t figure out why it’s doing that. They just tell me to do the best I can and I do. I do lots of volunteering to keep me busy and my mind and body active. I can’t see how exercising is going to help me more than it is right now.

    • jen

      Might you have access to a tricycle?

  • Hellyn

    Well, housework which is exercise leaves me fatigued. Walking to the shops, fatigue, tried the gym and swimming…each leave me paying for it for two days…can’t say that exercise works for everybody if everyday activities end up with recoup periods.

    • The Fibro Guy

      Hi Hellyn
      Of course some people will be very fatigued if their body has dysfunctions. Like I said in the bottom of the article, for those that get affected easily are the ones that are more often than not, suffering with complete dysfunction as well and need to correct their individual imbalances and dysfunctions before commencing exercising. 🙂

      • Liz

        I really love going to curves 3 times a week but due to my financial the now I have had to cancel my membership
        It really help my pain my mood and my energy levels

    • LHP

      This is EXACTLY what happens to me. I become so cramped I cannot even take a full step. If I try to push through, I get to where I cannot walk at all. Very frustrating because, like you say, stopping to stretch only helps a time or 2.

  • Jackie

    Thank you very much Adam, the article was very informative and I have learned so much from reading it. I myself have only recently been diagnosed with Osteoarthritis with Fibromyalgia as a secondary condition and a couple of other issues. I am trying to work out the best way for me to manage my fatigue and pain and I’m looking forward to following you and reading more of your articles. Take care. Jackie

  • Maria Tandy

    Hi Adam
    I need a fittness trainer like you!!!, I was diagnosed with fibro 3 years ago, prior to that I was very active running, 3 times a week in gym & zumba. Also a mother of 3 working in school supporting students with special needs. So this hit me with a shock. At the moment I walk to & thro from work & swim. I need to lose a stone in weight but I can’t find a fitness instructor who understands my condition. I so want to improve my cardiovascular & fittness. Is there anyone you can recommend? I live in the west midlands.
    Hope you can give me some advice
    Many Thanks
    Mrs Maria Tandy

    • The Fibro Guy

      Unfortunately there is not Maria, as my pain management programmes are a product of rehabbing my own chronic pain and 5+ years of research, trial and error and hours of practical work with clients. I do run online programmes that are not as effective as face-to-face sessions, but have proven successful for those as far as Australia after we rectify a few dysfunctions of a Skype session. There is also a wealth of info on my site and you tube channel that you can use as well.

      Best wishes

  • Maria Tandy

    Hi Adam
    I need a fittness trainer like you!!!, I was diagnosed with fibro 3 years ago, prior to that I was very active running, 3 times a week in gym & zumba. Also a mother of 3,working in school supporting students with special needs. So this hit me with a shock. At the moment I walk to & thro from work & swim. I need to lose a stone in weight but I can’t find a fitness instructor who understands my condition. I so want to improve my cardiovascular & fittness. Is there anyone you can recommend? I live in Stourbridge the west midlands.
    Hope you can give me some advice
    Many Thanks
    Mrs Maria Tandy

    • Chuck

      A good many valbluaes you’ve given me.

  • trevor bradshaw

    I was diagnosed with FM approx 8yrs ago, in 2013 I decided enough was enough with the medication, it seemed to me to be a downward spiral. I decided to increase my exercise activity and gradually reduce the tablets, by early 2015 I was totally drug free having also increased the protein in my diet, this helped with the recovery after exercise . It is the recovery day after exercise which is the painful period for a FM sufferer .Exercise is best if it is weightless on the legs ie swimming cycling or rowing. Last year I cycled London to Paris and felt good, pain is different to everyone as is self motivation but exercise is key to living with fibro.

  • Joan McPARLAND

    Very interesting read on fibromyalgia.
    You say you’ve seen ‘severe’ ME patients recover and return to work by this type of graded exercise, could you elaborate on their level of severity please…
    Severe, as in being totally bedbound, unable to speak, tube fed, noise and light intolerant etc, from a sudden onset viral illness?
    In the absence of an accurate diagnostic test for ME would you consider such patients to have had Chronic Fatigue or were they just self-diagnosed perhaps?
    The high misdiagnoses rates between ME, CF and Fibro are worrisome as surveys show doctors are generally not confident in differentiating between the three. Also did these ‘severe’ ME patients receive home based treatment or were they well enough to attend your clinic as that alone would be a good indicator of severity Alan.

    • The Fibro Guy

      Hello Joan,

      I think you may have slightly misread the ending of the blog. I state that over the years working with clients I always fix dysfunctions first before even thinking about exercise. Graded exercises does yield some amazing results if done properly, but in the closing of the blog I was referring to work with past clients. I rehabilitated a woman last year who had been house bound for 10+ years and blogged her progress with videos that you can read if you search for the first one entitled “Housebound”.

      For me “severe” would be classed as house bound with light intolerance etc. There is quite a high percentage of those with ME who make a full recovery in general when you look at the statistics.
      I regularly post out volunteer request for those in the close vicinity to come and work with me for free in return for helping me make minor adjustments or new programmes (mobility, pain management, hypermobility, etc) so I regularly get to work at both ends of the fibro, CFS/ME so to speak.

      If you ever wish to talk further please feel to email as I sometimes miss comments on the blogs.

      Warm regards

  • Katherine

    I have EDS and have been working hard for 3 years since my diagnosis- with pilates, stregnth training, walking and using a crosstrainer. I have fairly severe fatigue and mild symptoms of dysautonomia. I have not seen any improvement so far except increased stability in my hips since I started doing pilates. I don’t even feel significantly fitter. I’ve exercised all my life except for a year or so before my diagnosis when I couldn’t manage it whilst not knowing what was causing my pain and fatigue. But my body just doesn’t seem to be responding to it like it ought to. It is very frustrating but I am not giving up!

    • Cherry

      Wham bam thank you, ma’am, my qusietons are answered!

  • Angela Bradshaw

    My husband was diagnosed with Fribromyalgia 8 years ago and had been prescribed numerous drugs to help alleviate the pain. All of which only worked for a while. He would try to continue with exercise but became tied quickly and like one of the previous posts would suffer for the following days. Early last year he decided to take matters into his own hands and changed his diet to include more protein and vitamins, became drug free and embarked upon an exercise plan. He was determined to carry on through when his head told him he couldn’t do it he continued and worked through the pain.

    Last summer he did a bike ride from London to Paris riding alone, this year his goal is a 3K wild water swim. It may be hard to hear but he’s an example that with the right mind set, willpower and determination to take control of your like back you can.

  • Evelyn Hamilton

    I will be 60 this Saturday and was diagnosed in my 30’s as suffering from Hypermobility which led to planterfaciaitis, then diagnosed as Extensive Chronic Fibromyalgia, Chronic fatigue and IBS. It was hell as no one knew what was wrong for 5 years so I ended up with depression.
    I just want to encourage others to keep trying different ways to help yourself
    If it doesn’t help then stop taking meds or whatever, if it does help keep taking it.
    Personally the only thing I can do is swim a little, but I never get a long enough run at it because I end up with fatigue. I’m glad you have helped a lot of people Adam
    Keep up the good work. To those who suffer I say treasure the people you love and find joy in the simple things.

  • Justine R.

    Thank you. This article has given me the kick in the butt I needed to start training again. One year ago, I was a runner, I was training 3 times a week and had gone in a few months from terrible to relatively decent in terms of cardiovascular health. Then fibro struck me down (I had my first fibronniversary last week). I tried running once since I was struck down with fibro, and like others I had to suffer through DOMS for 4 days, terrible. But I decided enough is enough, and it probably wasn’t working because I was using the wrong method. I made myself a training programme and I’ve done 2 sessions so far with impressive success; only mild aches the day after, like you would expect in a normal person. I do 15 minute of power walk, I will increase to 20 gradually, then 25, then I will start adding short intervals of jogging. I’m really enthusiastic about it. I was silly to think I had to give up my favourite sport because of fibromyalgia. I only needed to go a lot more gradually than a normal person would. I love the endorphin high after a training session, it takes the pain away for half an hour afterwards. 🙂 I’ve been med free for a little while as all the stuff I’ve tried during the last year just felt like it was poisoning my system (I was overly sensitive to a couple of medications, including Lyrica, Percocet and Trazodone). I hope this will help me on the long run (pun intended haha), with all the supplements I’m taking.

  • Jenelle

    This is crsatyl clear. Thanks for taking the time!

  • Alicia pavey

    I am super excited that I have finally got doctors to recognise that I have a dysfunction in my sacroilliac joints and we are currently working on that so that I can walk again.

    Right now I have known sciatica nerve compression, but there is more to it.

  • Jackie Turner

    Since I started exercising, cardio & weights, my Fibro pain has reduced greatly. I haven’t been for nearly 2 weeks now because I’ve had a really bad cold & my Fibro pain is back with a vengeance

  • End Of Year Review - Looking at the success of those with chronic pain - The Fibro Guy

    […] Why they keep telling you to exercise […]

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