In late 2007 I began experiencing pain in my back. I had just been through a very stressful time in my life, so I assumed the pain was linked to that, and it would go away within a week. Unfortunately, I was quite mistaken. By February of 2008 the pain had progressed to my neck, arms and legs. It also wasn’t just annoying aches or twinges, but a deep, exhausting pain that was starting to completely change my life. I couldn’t reach my arms above my head to retrieve a dish from the cabinet. I had difficulty sitting at the computer for work. When I lay down to sleep, the pressure of my own body caused pain. It hurt to walk. It hurt to sit. It felt like I had been in a car accident, only without the car! My doctor had no idea how to help me, as all my test results indicated I was perfectly healthy. I decided to check myself into Physical Therapy. While PT reduced my symptoms, little explanation was given as to the underlying cause, so when I was released from treatment I knew the pain was not yet finished with me.
Even though my condition had improved somewhat, I still suffered with unexplained pain over the next year and eventually ended up back in Physical Therapy. The PT examined the parts of the body I had circled on the pain diagram, asked me a few questions, and then asked if she could try a test. She went on to lightly press her fingers into several points on my body. The majority of the areas were painful to her touch. “I can’t make a diagnosis,” she said, “but I strongly encourage you to see a specialist about Fibromyalgia.” I didn’t like hearing this, but I followed her instruction and saw a specialist. After what seemed like a hundred tests to eliminate other possibilities I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, almost exactly 2 years after I first experienced symptoms.
After such a long period of suffering and confusion, at first I was relieved and validated to have the certainty of a diagnosis. But I also thought to myself, “now what?” There are many pharmaceutical options to help treat the pain and fatigue, but I certainly didn’t want to live life medicated. One of the alternative treatments that stood out to me was exercise. I knew working in a sedentary job wasn’t helping my symptoms, and my Physical Therapist emphasized exercise was my best bet. I believed her, but the thought of exercise was daunting. Walking was out, my legs and feet ached too much. Aerobics require too much coordination. I tried swimming, but the chlorine gave me headaches.
In late 2010, I started seeing Dr. Patrick Bourlon to receive continued care for my neck. I discussed with him the difficulty of finding a type of exercise that would improve, not worsen my symptoms. He suggested I give Pilates a try. Trusting his advice, I tried a private session with a Pilates Instructor at Balance Massage and Fitness. It was definitely not what I thought it would be. I had expected the instructor to be some lean, athletic type I would find intimidating. In fact, she had had her own difficult past of injuries and chronic pain, and provided me with a safe and empathetic atmosphere. She explained that the goal was to teach me proper body mechanics and increase my body awareness so I could gain the power to reduce pain levels on my own terms and at my own pace. I decided to commit to Pilates and began weekly private sessions. Each session we built gradually on the last, developing muscle groups long overlooked. When something hurt, she always had a modification ready to make the exercise more accessible for my body. In Pilates, I didn’t have to be on my feet all of the time, as she changed my positions often in order to never put too much pressure on any one area of my body. I had found the exercise practice that was not only possible for me, but made me feel better. The emphasis on restoring good posture and balancing muscle groups reduced my symptoms and now after many years of practicing Pilates I am a completely different person than I was when I was first diagnosed. Everyone with Fibromyalgia is different, and each individual needs to find the combination of treatments that will best assist them in dealing with their condition. Finding an exercise regimen that helps (and doesn’t hurt!) is vital to the healing process. I’m glad I found Pilates. I can’t imagine my life without it.