Personal Training: Clients With Fibromyalgia | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

Personal Training: Clients With Fibromyalgia

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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  • Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that affects millions of Americans.
  • Living with fibromyalgia can have a negative psychological impact.
  • Low-impact aerobic activity is best for someone who is suffering from fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by diffused musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, which is often associated with other chronic medical problems. Traditionally characterized as an arthritic-type disorder that creates pain and psychological issues, fibromyalgia is now thought to come from imbalances in the central nervous system that increase one’s perception of pain.

According to the National Institute of Health, fibromyalgia now affects millions of Americans 18 and older with approximately 80 to 90 percent of those diagnosed being female.

However, men and children are not exempt from developing fibromyalgia, with the majority of cases diagnosed during middle age.

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Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia causes muscle pain and feelings of fatigue. If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you may have widespread pain and tenderness throughout your body.

  • Widespread pain syndrome – Many people who have fibromyalgia describe the pain as a constant ache that has been ongoing for at least three months. The pain is considered widespread if it occurs on both sides of the body and above and below the waist.
  • Chronic fatigue – Individuals suffering from fibromyalgia feel tired, even though they sleep for long periods of time. People with fibromyalgia may wake up due to pain, and they may suffer from other sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
  • Cognitive difficulties – Referred to as “fibro fog,” this impairs one’s ability to pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.

Fibromyalgia Pain Points

Given its diffused nature, diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult. Someone suffering from fibromyalgia may not be able to pinpoint the exact location of their discomfort. Typically, they say that they just hurt all over and cannot pinpoint the source. According to the American College of Rheumatology guidelines, 11 out of 18 pain points must trigger a painful response to make an accurate diagnosis.

Below is a list of the possible tender points:

  • Back of the neck
  • Front of the neck
  • Hips
  • Elbows
  • Upper back
  • Lower back
  • Knees
  • Shoulders
  • Chest

Risk Factors of Fibromyalgia

Physicians aren’t sure what causes fibromyalgia, but it is most likely a variety of factors working together.

These factors can include the following:

  • Genetics – Because fibromyalgia is known to run in families, you may be more likely to develop the disorder if another family member has it.
  • Physical or emotional trauma – Fibromyalgia can be triggered by physical trauma, such as an automobile accident. Psychological stress can also trigger this condition.
  • Infections – Certain types of illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Other muscle and joint disorders – If you suffer from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus, you may also develop fibromyalgia.

Management of Fibromyalgia

Initial treatment of fibromyalgia includes a referral to a physical therapist, lifestyle changes, dietary modification such as eliminating caffeine and alcohol, and possibly cognitive therapy or support groups. Lifestyle changes include stress reduction, getting enough sleep or improving sleeping patterns, regular exercise, and eating a heart-healthy diet that is low in sugar and saturated fat.

Exercise and Fibromyalgia

If you have fibromyalgia, you may be reluctant to exercise for fear that it’ll aggravate your symptoms. Fortunately, research shows that regular moderate exercise can reduce the painful symptoms of fibromyalgia and improve function. And while the pain and constant fatigue may make exercise difficult, it’s important to stay as active as possible.

Although you may be hesitant, starting a low impact exercise routine can help with painful fibromyalgia symptoms. Walking for a few minutes a day and gradually building up to 30 minutes several times a week is a great place to start. It is important that you pace yourself and don’t try to do too much. If you are having a good day and push yourself too hard, you may do more harm than good.

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Personal Training for Fibromyalgia

Additional pain is usually experienced when pressure is applied to specific areas of the body known as “trigger points.” Since clients suffering from fibromyalgia also experience chronic fatigue, this must be taken into consideration when deciding on the intensity to use during training segments for these individuals.

Strength training and aerobic exercise are both effective in reducing the painful symptoms of fibromyalgia. The main concern for any personal trainer as it relates to aerobic activity is selecting the proper intensity and duration of the activity. Speed walking, for example, should be of light to moderate intensity for 20 to 30 minutes.

Training sessions should not exceed three times a week for the first months. Additionally, resistance training with weight machines and free weights have also been shown to reduce overall pain, tender point count, and improve the client’s mood and quality of life.

Role as a Personal Trainer

A personal trainer must make modifications as deemed necessary to deal with their client’s pain levels. The client’s pain threshold should be monitored continuously during each session. Additionally, workout routines should be customized to help minimize post-exercise pain.

Trainers should also note that life difficulties associated with fibromyalgia typically promote poor exercise adherence.

A personal trainer also needs to understand how their client’s perception of exercise plays a crucial role in keeping them motivated and thinking positively.

Frequently Asked Questions About Fibromyalgia

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is characterized by diffused musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, which is often associated with other chronic medical problems.

What causes fibromyalgia?

The main cause of fibromyalgia is unknown.

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

Symptoms of fibromyalgia include headaches, extremity tingling or numbness, memory problems, pain throughout the body, irritable bowel syndrome, painful menstrual periods, temperature, noise, and/or light sensitivity, restless leg syndrome, and difficulty sleeping.

Can men have fibromyalgia?

80-90% of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia are women, but men and children can be diagnosed as well.

What tests are there for fibromyalgia?

There are no lab tests for fibromyalgia.

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