Friday, August 30, 2013

Fibromyalgia, Sleep, and Walking

The other day a friend shared that her 30 year old daughter had just been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  The young woman has been feeling poorly for some time - mostly fatigued and unmotivated.  She has a 3 year old daughter, a husband, a full time job, and all the usual issues that life throws our way.  Imagine her not being fatigued?  Nevertheless, it is not normal for a young, otherwise healthy woman to suffer from disabling fatigue.  The diagnosis, while not exactly welcomed, was at least an answer for her.

I felt compelled to share my 28 years of experience with treating my own Fibromyalgia.  When I was first diagnosed, I had never heard or read of this condition and it was not widely known about even within the medical community.  The original research into this disorder came from returning Vietnam Veterans who had been prisoners of war in those cages in the swamps.  After a lot of evidence gathering and some trial and error, physicians discovered a connection between the deep fatigue and joint pain these guys suffered (they were all males in those days) and abnormal sleep patterns.  They all shared the same aberrant sleep patterns from sleep evaluations that were in their early days of widespread usage.  These poor guys had forced themselves to awaken and turn over every 5-10 minutes in those swampy cages so that the snakes and rats wouldn't bite them.  Even once those threats were gone and the former POW's had returned home, they couldn't unlearn those lifesaving maneuvers.  They had hundreds or thousands of wakeful intrusions into their restful sleep state each night.  Each Night!  A guy might awaken 1000 times in an 8 hour period.  This deprived their bodies of restful, restorative sleep, resulting in the deep joint pain and disabling fatigue they experienced.

I had never been a 'good sleeper'.  As far back as I could remember, I had difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, seldom achieving more than 4-5 hours of  'sleep' each night.  Sleep studies demonstrated that I was actually only getting about 2 hours of restful sleep.  I had three kids at that time, two under two years of age - so at my best I was only able to lie down probably 4 hours a night since my kids don't have any better luck sleeping that I do!  This was not just the normal fatigue of a sleepless baby and mom.  I was in a great deal of pain and, at one point, began to think I was suffering from some progressive and fatal disease and had better plan who would raise my babies.
That's just crazy - and awful to think back on.

Fortunately I was taken seriously by my husband first (a doctor) and then my own doctor.  I was checked out for all kinds of other ailments with batteries of blood work.  I got a clean bill of health in all those areas.  So, this diagnosis that was so new - but that fit my life and symptoms like a glove - was assigned to me and I began to be treated with medication to achieve the sleep that was so elusive.

What a difference a few weeks made!  After several weeks of night time medication, my sleep patterns became more normal and the pains that so concerned and disabled me began to diminish.  It was at that time that I also began to learn of the connection between exercise, sleep, and the relief of pain.  With some experimentation, I discovered a routine that gave me the best sleep - as the best sleep is not to be found in a pill bottle alone.

So, about that exercise.  Well, you know how I feel about walking.  But, here's why.  Let's say you have a job like a mail carrier who walks a 5 mile route every day.  (I have no idea how long a regular mail route might be.)  You will develop great leg muscles and stay in good shape because you are walking every day and even carrying that fairly heavy pouch full of mail.  But, that walk will not do for our purposes.  So, even if you have a physically demanding job, you still need this extra piece to get the full benefits of an exercise like walking, biking, or swimming.

What's the difference?  First, there is the intent.  Physical demands during a job or for any other reason to complete a task does not release those endorphins the way a 'dedicated' walk does.  Second, the dedicated walk that engages the larger muscles of the legs - calf muscles, thigh muscles, and glutes  (hips and butt) will result in tiring physical activity while the brain is engaged in either a social activity (if you walk and talk with someone) or an introspective (maybe spiritual) activity if walking alone.  This specific combination of engaging those large muscles and releasing those endorphins is what will give the benefit of restorative sleep.  Really!

My preferred method of accomplishing the path to restorative sleep is walking.  But biking and swimming will too.  Other activities, if you are up to them, will also work.  Dancing, kickboxing, fencing.  You name it.  If it's an activity that you dedicate yourself to for this purpose, you'll find that good, restorative sleep will be the result.  Maybe not every single night.  Maybe not the full 8 hours we're supposed to get.  But, good sleep that will bring you a sense of well being, a lessening of physical pain, and an overall improvement in your physical health.

If you have Fibromyalgia, there is no cure.  There is effective treatment.  Part of that may well be in a pill bottle.  But, the part you can do that will cost you nothing and carries no risk of adverse side effects is walking.  If you suffer from pain either before or during a walk, ask your doctor for some help with the pain or use the 'universal' pain relief helpmate of 1 extra strength tylenol (acetaminophen) and 1 Ipuprofen about 30 minutes before your walk.  You'll be able to walk farther with less pain during and after the walk.  I truly believe that you'll find benefit from the exercise.

I Am Not A Doctor.  I am not dispensing medical advise.  I'm sharing with you what I have learned from doctors and from my own research and the treatment I have received for 27+ years with this diagnosis.  I believe I had Fibromyalgia even as a child.  I had poor sleep and lots of 'growing pains'.  I was active in sports in school and participated in lots of strenuous physical activities in my leisure time.  All of that helped me feel better, but once I was able to put all the pieces together - the scientific research, the medical therapies, and my own personal experiences, I was able to achieve a much better quality of life.  That quality requires that I do my part - the exercise and good sleep hygiene (read a later article on that soon) - as a routine.  If I can do it, so can you!

*************************** Remember my 100% GUARANTEE. Should you decide to stop walking and resume your old habits, I personally guarantee that you'll get back 100% of your former life - your pain, your lifestyle, your attitude. You can trust the information you find here. It's from a dedicated walker. Trust me and your life will get better! I promise.

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