The Challenges of Fibromyalgia and Staying in Shape

Girl Stretching

Article by Wendy McCance

Last night I went to the gym with my husband to work out.  We have been feeling out of shape and had just gotten a membership to a gym that we hadn’t used yet.  I was looking forward to begin the process of getting back in shape.

Several people wonder what it feels like to have fibromyalgia, or what limitations I might have.  From past experience, I am well aware of just how carefully I have to be when I work out.  If I push myself to much (which isn’t much at all), I will end up on bed rest for days and in a good amount of pain.

My plan was to go on the treadmill for 20 minutes.  That would be my entire workout for my first day back.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but it takes very little to trigger the stiffness and the pain that feels like bruises and electrical shocks.  Call me overly cautious, but I do get nervous when I am working out.

When we got to the gym, I put my jacket in a locker and went out to the gym floor to hunt down a treadmill.  I was feeling uncomfortable knowing that as I would be moving slowly on my machine, people around me would either be jogging or doing a brisk walk on their treadmills.

I put in my settings and got walking.  For the first 5 minutes, I felt dizzy.  I was scared that I would pass out.  My husband came by to see if I was able to set up the machine the way I wanted to.  I mentioned the dizziness and he watched me for a moment.   This is not the first time I have had an issue with dizziness.  Thankfully, my husband is used to my symptoms and has a pretty good idea of when to worry.   He felt that the dizziness would subside as I got used to the machine.  He was right.  The dizziness subsided after a minute more and I walked on.  I was able to get up to an incline of 5 and a speed of 3 mph.  Sad, maybe, but I went to the gym and I worked out so I won’t beat myself up.

After 20 minutes, I got off the treadmill and walked over to where my husband was using some weights.  I ended up following him around while he finished using the weight equipment.

When we got home, I began to feel some pain on the sides of my legs right below my hips.  I got that panicky feeling that I had done too much.  The dilemma becomes knowing how soon I can try working out again without compounding the pain I am feeling.  Honestly, trying to stay in shape is the most frustrating part of fibromyalgia for me.  I used to be active without a care in the world.  I have been reduced to worrying about a 20 minute walk.

My husband talked with me about using a different machine that wouldn’t jolt my body every time I took a step.  The next time I go, I will be trying the elliptical machine to see if my body can tolerate it better.

This morning I woke up with a horribly painful stiff neck and what felt like sparks of pain in different parts of my body.  I feel much worse than before I worked out.  I remember when I used to work out and look forward to a little pain the next day.  It was a good indication that I had a good workout.  Working out with fibromyalgia is much different.  I dread the pain, especially because I know how ridiculously light my workout was.

The important part of this story is that yes, having fibromyalgia can feel limiting.  I am nowhere near able to perform the way I once was athletically.  Even so, I am determined to continue to learn about how far I can push my body.  It’s important for me to stay moving. A sedentary lifestyle actually makes the pain worse.  My muscles stiffen up, the pain intensifies, my joints will crack and I end up moving around like a little old lady.

So it will take me 3 times as long to get to a point working out that most can accomplish before the end of their first workout session.  Thankfully I am not feeling particularly competitive.  I just know that the more I continue to move, the easier it will become.  My biggest mistake was to slow down once the cold weather hits.  This has caused me to have to start over from square one when the pain is at its worst.

So now you know what one of the challenges of fibromyalgia is.  Maybe you can relate because you have a health problem that causes you the same type of grief.  No matter, the take away from this post is not to give up.  You have a life to lead.  Do the best you can to make it everything it can be.  I believe the best things you can do for yourself are often those things that are the most challenging.  Face the challenges and move forward.  Be the best person you can be.


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Wendy McCance

Wendy McCance is a Michigan based freelance writer and social media consultant. Wendy has gained attention as the founder of the popular blog Searching for the Happiness which can be viewed in 6 local papers online, including the Oakland Press.The combination of writing skills and social media knowledge is what makes Wendy such a powerhouse to work with. Stay tuned for opportunities to advertise, guest post and as always, have your questions answered.

To contact Wendy McCance about a writing assignment, interview or speaking engagement, please email her at: [email protected]

31 thoughts on “The Challenges of Fibromyalgia and Staying in Shape

  1. Adjusting to our lives to live with fibro and chronic fatigue conditions can be incredibly difficult when the goal posts keep changing. As you said, you just never know what will ‘tip’ you over on any particular occasion. Such a game of patience and perseverence - good on you!

  2. Well kudos to you for going to the gym! I have a very sturdy treadmill at home that is currently being used as more of a closet. I generally have a bad fall at least once a year, so I have had many a visit with a physical therapist. The last time I was able to get moving, my physical therapist started me on a graded exercise plan. The first week I was only to walk 5 minutes at 2.5 mph, with some gentle stretching. More minutes of walking were tacked on each week until I was comfortable walking at about 3.5 mph for 30 minutes. I also suffer from Chronic Fatigue, Lupus, and Lyme disease. So obviously I have to start off really slow. Besides walking really slow, she often had me do the recumbent bike. No stress on the knees and I could sit down, which was great for my dizziness. Here is more:

  3. Hi Wendy,
    I have a nasty case of fibromyalgia. Thank you for sharing your story, it is certainly helpful to know that we who manage with this condition are not alone. I write two blogs - and As part of my ongoing commitment to getting through the flareups - I walk in distance events. So far, since my diagnosis in 2001, I have completed 11 half marathons and 4 full marathons. I have also lost 103 pounds. Although I have added back some weight due to more flareups, etc. , I have a renewed commitment to exercise and my health. I’d welcome an opportunity to guest blog for you and would invite you to do the same. Thank you for bringing light to this condition and for facing it daily. Take care and all the best.
    Carol Fitzgerald Tyler

    • Hi Carol, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I am in awe of the fact that you have done some marathons. I think that’s incredible. I welcome you to share your link on my opportunity page to get more traffic to your site. All the best. :)

      • Thank you Wendy for the opportunity to share my blog on your opportunity page. I will be posting the link there shortly.

        Pushing forward and doing these events are not a simple matter - but they are in many ways life saving. Plenty have laughed at me and given me sideways glances for not being a “serious runner” and for being last in races I have entered. In my opinion, if they only knew what I was up against, the fact that I was there at all was victory enough for me :). I have ceased needing to prove anything to anyone - I have become the little engine that could - I think I can, I know I can. Thank you again for the opportunity.

  4. Hi Wendy. You are a much braver woman than me. As you know I have Fibromyalgia too, as the worst affected areas are my legs, to go on a treadmill would be a complete no no. I can only do a maximum of 10 sits up, if I do 12 I get stomach pain, then can’t do any for about 3 days. Exercise, apart from walking and the occasional leg stretches makes my pain much worse and I don’t like it because pretty much all physical activity hurts. If I walk on the flat, then that’s not too bad, uphill is hurtful but I do make myself go up some hills just to push myself.

    • Yuck, you definitely have it worse than me. My biggest problem has always been my walking as well. When I was first diagnosed, my legs were so stiff and painful that I went through physical therapy just to try to get the motion back in my legs. The therapist said I had a build-up of lactic acid and that was why I was in so much pain. All I know is that if I don’t keep moving, I stiffen up and the problem becomes much worse. I’m glad you have figured out what works for you. That is the hardest part. Trying to do what you can without overdoing it. All the best to you. :)

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  6. First of all, you need to stop using the words, “Sad I know”. Yes, I sound like a mom right now;) It’s not sad. It’s not something to be ashamed of. My mom once told me that I cut myself down because I fear others are thinking the same thing and it hurts less if I say it first. But it’s an awful habit to fall into! Don’t do that to yourself. You don’t need it and you certainly don’t deserve it. Ok, lecture over;)

    I have been an active gym girl since I was 18. I’m now 38. And in all those years and injuries and guilt and pressure and competition and shame and success and all the other things I experienced, you know what I’ve come to learn as the biggest lesson: Exercise is never the same all the time. We change. Our bodies change. Life changes. As I’ve gotten older I’ve finally started listening to my body and doing what is healthy and challenging but safe and not painful. I don’t have to puke to get a good workout. I don’t have to max out on a lift to be successful. I just have to move in a way that challenges my heart and my muscles and even my mind. Some days that’s a 3 mile jog, others it’s a hot yoga or zumba class and still others it’s a Crossfit workout. But I will not punish myself that it doesn’t look as I think it “should.” And neither should you. We should all over ourselves as wives and mothers and women. Be kind to yourself and your body. Do what makes you feel better, a little challenged and successful.

    That’s all you SHOULD do. ;)
    (That’s my two cents. You should probably toss it out with tonight’s rubish;)

    • Thanks. It was so weird, I went today and did the same thing. When I had walked the 20 minutes I did an additional 5 minutes of a cool down. The treadmill slows down and the incline drops down. It made me horribly dizzy and it felt like I was walking downhill (like I was lurching forward). Just a very strange uncomfortable feeling.

  7. I can so relate to this, I have MD and have to start new things slowly. I easily get hurt, pulled tendons and ligaments, along with other aches and pains. With MD, the nerve endings are damaged so I don’t feel the pain like others may, as a result I don’t feel anything until after I’ve done big damage. It frustrates some who just can’t wrap their head around the fact that I don’t recuperate as quickly as they do. While some can take a day off and work other body parts, I may need three, if I didn’t damage anything that is.

  8. My fibromyalgia is more noticeable when the season’s change. Last summer’s heat and drought kept me almost pain free. I have IBS along with the Fibro. My doctor explained it to me that the nerves controlling my lower tract are “haywire.” It limits my being very active in my church.

  9. Wendy, I won’t go into my boring old age ailments, but I do feel for you, especially that business of trying to estimate how much you can do safely without followup problems… .especially during eleven years of acute Chronic Fatigue Syndrome…when yoga absolutely killed me!
    The exercise I’ve found that is gentle and therapeutic is Taoist Tai Chi . You can Google it.and read about it…it has definitely helped my back, and most of the people I go with feel it’;s helped them in different ways.
    Whatever path you choose…go well, and best wishes…

  10. Wendy, it ‘s awful having limitations when you’ve been used to moving about freely. I’ve suffered from RSI and couldn’t move my right arm for a long time. It got so bad that my husband had to cut up my food as I was unable to, I couldn’t even pour a cup of coffee or slice bread. I’d been off work with it for 7 months before I could make a slow start again after having had special physio. Also I benefitted from taking carlic capsules, they brought me great relief. After I was able to move my arm again I took up Nordic Walking which Is a great excercise especially as you move your arms when walking thereby strengthening you neck and shoulders. The beauty of this sport is that you can do it outside and you can set your own pace. Also it gives relief to the hips and legs.
    I wish you the best.

  11. Aww… I do feel for you. I applaud you for staying with it and not giving in. That is the easy way, isn’t it. I’m lucky that I’m in good health. My challenge is writing with dyslexia. I continue to struggle with it, but I never have given up in looking for and finding ways to overcome that challenge. :)

    • I love the way you challenge yourself. Having dyslexia and push past it amazes me. You have a book that is just coming out and a successful blog. Pretty impressive the way you really just go on living your life without playing in to any limitations. :)

  12. Wendy, I feel you. I am newly diagnosed with COPD and it has begun to change my life. I get out of breath going to the mailbox and I can’t tell you how much I miss my walks with my grandsons. I am only 49 and some days I feel much older. I have always been very active.. I was a very fast walker and I am having to be aware of my speed so I can slow it down.
    I agree that the key is attitude. After a recent hospitalization my 19 year old son and I were discussing the future as a person with COPD. He said to me, “Mom, I don’t worry about you. You have the best attitude of anyone I have ever met and you have been a fighter since the day you were born. Bad stuff happens to all of us and we are all going to die. I know you will live as long as you are supposed to and you will make the best of every moment”. That is almost word for word. When he was twelve, one day while he was at school his Dad died from a massive heart attack. So he understands a bit more than most that when it is your time, that’s it.
    So take care of yourself and on your bad days find comfort in the people that support you and listen to your body and let it set your pace. On your good days, which I hope you have many, enjoy every minute. Talk to your gym staff. Maybe they have some ideas for ways to help you exercise. Most gyms deal with people that have limitations quite often.
    You sound to me like you are a strong and confident woman. I hope today gets better and that tomorrow is better yet.

    • Thanks for the links, that’s awesome. I have wanted to do yoga for a long time. I really think it would help a lot. I have been a bit intimidated because I am so out of shape. I know everyone has to start somewhere, but I’ve been slow to take my own advice.

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