When most people hear the term “form and function” they might be more apt to think of design principles than exercise essentials but form and function are essential to learn to exercise with fibromyalgia.
One of the very first lessons I had about living well with fibromyalgia was from Dr. Mark Pellegrino who is the resident expert on the WebMD fibromyalgia support page. Dr. Mark, or Dr. P, speaks a lot about and has written about something he calls “fibronomics” which is the concept of a home position for the fibromyalgia body. Basically it is keeping arms and elbows close to the body, the spine straight but not stiff and the feet comfortably on the floor from a seated position or when standing shoulder-width apart. as a newly minted fibromyalgia patient, as I incorporated “home position” philosophy to my daily tasks I learned to better manage my pain.
About a year later is I started the Fibromyalgia Five Minute Fitness Challenge on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fibromyalgia-Five-Minute-Fitness-Challenge/135767629817258?ref=hl and became determined to use “home position” strategies as I learned to move my body again. As the page name suggests, five minutes of continuous movement was the goal. Believe me in the beginning it was a goal.
At that time on my best day I could move for five minutes without stopping. The problem was my best day was few and far between. However there is a truth that was pushing me to push myself and that is: fibromyalgia will not kill me but being inactive absolutely will.
I also kept it real with these two truths:
I am powerless to change the fact fibromyalgia is a part of my life now but I have all the power to learn to live better with it.
I have all the power to avoid dying a premature death from lack of movement.
In the beginning, those simple truths were all I had to work with and they proved to be enough. Flanked by courage and conviction I used those truths to teach myself to move as I incorporated the concept of home into every movement.
I focused on functional movement–doing laundry, grocery shopping, household tasks–while focusing on the form of my body. If I movement caused pain, I studied it until I found a way to change it so it did not cause pain.
Now three years later I am able to spend some time in the gym and all I have to do is look around for 10 seconds before I can find 10 people who have no idea the danger they are placing their bodies in by not following the rules of form and function in exercise which apply to everyone not just those of us with fibromyalgia.
Two days ago I was perched atop my treadmill and trying not to focus on the minutes or my speed so my eyes began to rove around the room. There he was again — the buffed guy in danger of herniating the discs in his neck. Just the sight of him made me want to jump off the treadmill and run over to him and say, “Dude… As someone who suffers pain let me help you avoid some.”
He was doing lat pulldowns with so much weight that he had to throw his head and neck forward violently to be able to pull the weight down. This is bad form no matter who you are but for those of us with fibromyalgia it would certainly bring on a flare.
With the injuries and damage in my own neck if I were to do that my head just might come flying right off my shoulders. It hurt me just watching him. Not only as someone who suffers from pain but as someone who knows how crucial proper technique is to maintaining strength and avoiding disability.
Now I did not jump off my treadmill and go rushing to his aid because that was not my place but I can use this experience to help you understand that if you will learn to be very body conscious when you are exercising you can exercise with fibromyalgia without throwing yourself into a flare.
So what does being body conscious mean?
It simply means reminding yourself consistently to keep your body in a neutral alignment while you move. Neutral alignment means that you are not leaning off to one side or the other as you walk or even as you carry groceries.
Carrying groceries is exactly where I started. It is the sneaky part of function of form and function.
You see I started learning to move again by teaching myself functional movement. Three years ago I could not carry a week’s worth of groceries into the house without a flare. At the time I was a single mom with a child who also has fibromyalgia. In other words I needed to figure out how to care for my family AND my body. So to build myself up where I could be the mom who needed to shop and the fibro girl who needed to avoid extra pain, I started using the self-checkout so I could evenly fill the bags with what I knew I could carry and brought them in two-by-two. It is a little time consuming but the end result is worth the effort.
Did it hurt in the beginning? Of course it did. All new fitness programs—with and without fibromyalgia—are going to bring some mild pain as muscles who are not used to working learn to move again. It is NORMAL!
You hear that?
For those of us who deal with non-normal pain daily the thought of adding to it can be absurd except when you can wrap your head around using the normal pain of new movement to increase your strength, flexibility and endurance. Not to mention exercise is one of the natural triggers of endorphins and endorphins calm pain.
Yep, your body is naturally equipped to reduce pain with endorphins. But you have to trigger the release of this pain-quelling-chemical.
Just sit there and read that over again because I very much want you to understand you do have the power to naturally reduce your pain levels.
I know the “E” word gets the big ol’ eye roll of “ain’t no way in hell” from fibro patients.
Suck it up buttercup!
Your doctor does not hate you—I know he has told you to exercise—and neither do I or anyone else who has suggested perhaps you should move more to reduce your pain.
There is science to it and regardless of your personal philosophy about the origin of man the absolute truth is our bodies are built to not only move but possess the very chemicals to solve some of the pain of moving.
If you are a religious type you may be aware of the admonition by the Apostle Paul to “put off the natural man” and follow God. Well, here is your chance.
God made that body of yours and He is smarter than you. He knows our human understanding says to stop moving when we hurt so here’s our chance to show the Big Guy we trust Him by moving to activate that pain killing chemical He gave us.
I do not care one iota which philosophy to which you subscribe but this is one of those moments where science and faith conspire together in harmony. The truth is our bodies produce chemicals to reduce pain. Period.
Okay, maybe that is a little bit more tough love than you are used to but this is a time for toughness!
You can use your body to heal your body—and by heal, for Heaven’s sake I do not mean cure—because I am not telling you fibromyalgia is going to magically disappear if you go take a walk.
However, I will insist your pain and your ability to manage your pain will get better and I can insist because I am living proof of the trust I have that science and God knew more than me so I made it my mission to figure out how to make it work for me. I know that does not make me too popular and it has even cost me relationships but it is the truth and I am going to always tell you the truth.
Stop listening to people who say it is impossible or it is too hard. They haven’t figured it out.
I know this works and I know hundreds of other fibro patients who say it helps them too. You hold that same power of faith, or if that makes you uncomfortable of knowledge, to just listen and believe those who spend their lives trying to unravel the fibro puzzle.
It is time you listened!
You do not have to live with ALL the pain you have. I know you can figure out new ways of doing, of being so you do not have so much pain to deal with.
It starts at home—not just home position—but in your own home by watching your form and function in every single thing you do. When you find—oh and you will find—those things you do which inspire more pain I am confident in your ability to change.
You all know that meme “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Now is your chance to prove it!
Move with purpose and think about each movement and ask yourself, “Does it hurt when or after I do this?” And if the answer is yes…CHANGE!!! Just CHANGE how you do it. Evict the temptation to think it is too hard. Stop worrying about IF it will hurt and start asking yourself how you can do it differently next time so it does not hurt as much or at all. Then maintain a willingness to repeat the process if necessary until you whittle it down to the lowest possible fibro-response you can get.
If you consistently focus on form, function will follow.
It absolutely will!
Friends this is the hardest work I have ever done but to live better with fibromyalgia it has also been the most rewarding.
FIBRO UP and move because you can and because it works.