Repetitive Activity & Fibro

by Kristin Thorson, Fibromyalgia Network Editor
Posted: April 29, 2011

You know that using the same muscle groups over and over causes pain to build up rapidly in these areas. Ideally, you need to take lots of rest breaks, although this is seldom a feasible option. Once you have experienced this, it’s just a reality of living with fibromyalgia, and you learn to adapt. You are not lazy, nor are you exaggerating your pain response to repetitive activity. But how do you get others to understand what it feels like to live in your fibro body?

A new study by a Canadian team helps substantiate this escalating pain experience.* It also documents that movement-related pain is more severe for people with fibromyalgia compared to patients with chronic low back pain. And better yet, these differences between fibro and low back pain are not related to depression or fear of movement.

The repetitive task study required patients to lift 18 canisters off a table in front of them (just hold it for a second, then place it back down). The canisters were waist high and arranged in three rows. Those in the front row could be lifted without reaching or bending forward. Lifting the canisters in the second and third rows required additional stretching and strain on the arms and back when reaching for them. With each successive canister lift, the subjects rated their pain level and how heavy they perceived the canister to be (some were filled with more sand than others but they all looked identical).

Fibromyalgia patients reported more intense pain than the back pain patients after lifting the sixth through 18th canister. As the number of canisters lifted increased, so did the pain caused by the repetitive activity, and more so for the fibro group of patients. These differences were not due to lifting the canisters longer or faster, as both patient groups performed the lifting task with the same speed.

The study found that 28% of the 50 fibromyalgia patients experienced at least a one-third increase in pain levels going from the first to the 18th canister. Only 6% of the 50 back pain patients experienced a similar increase in pain with the repetitive lifting task.

“There were no indications that the fear of movement accounted for diagnosis-related differences in repetition-induced pain,” state the authors. Indeed, fear of movement was the same for both the fibro and back pain patients, so the greater pain in the fibromyalgia group could not be attributed to fear. However, the escalation of pain with repeat movement could offer an explanation for why fibro patients struggle during the early phases of a fitness program that necessitates using the same muscles over and over again.

“The results of the present study show that individuals with fibromyalgia are more susceptible to repetitive-induced activity related pain than individuals with chronic low back pain,” conclude the study authors. “The findings are consistent with anecdotal accounts of the difficulties that individuals with fibromyalgia experience in the context of repeated physical activity.”

* Lambin DL, et al. Pain 2011 Jun;152(6):1424-30.

59 Responses to Repetitive Activity & Fibro

  1. Carol Ray says:

    I have had this condition for years and it really seems to get worse as you get older. One secret I discovered was to keep moving even if you had to have those short breaks. Things just don’t get better but every now and then you have a good day. I am very tired of living this way but what can one do? I give it up to God.

    • Jodie says:

      Whoever edits and publishes these artilecs really knows what they’re doing.

      • barbara nascimben says:

        I find these articles totally helpful as I have just been diagnosed. Its wonderful to have a forum like this because it seems like the only people who really understand it are the ones who have it. Its the same type of stigma placed on mental illnesses. I guess like so many things, you have to have it to really understand it. Thanks for all you’re help.

    • ElizaBeth says:

      Going GF and eliminating several foods I learned I am allergic to did help easy some of my fibro sysmptoms. Going GF will help if you are gluten sensitive. It might be worth getting tested or trying an ellimination diet to see if anything you’re eating aggrivates your symptoms. If it helps, keep doing it. If not go back to eating it.

    • Valerie says:

      Along with fibro I have have IBS as well and the pain would cause me to pass out. I took food sensitivities testing and found that there were many healthy foods causing the pain. Staying away from those foods has improved the quality of my life.Using the Nutribullet to increase my greens intake helps digestion and lessens pain. Gluten free made no difference but not eating GMO wheat has. Fibro is the same.

  2. Linda Farwell says:

    I have been saying for years that repetitive motion just kills my arm muscles! Finally we have an article to confirm this. It’s one thing to suffer from FM, but it’s even worse to suffer with symtoms that don’t get recognition. Thank you!

    • Mary Lynn says:

      I feel the same way Linda. I have had FM for many years now and have found little to help with it. I cannot take any of the medications they have out there because of other existing problems. I have also noted that repetitive motion seems to worsen the pain. I try to change what I am doing as much as I can. I do a little, then lay down, then get up and do more or change activities often.

    • Elaine says:

      I so agree Linda…I could not get anyone to listen to me at work that I could not do repetitive things…it hurt my arms so one listened and eventually I ended up with frozen shoulder and had to go off work…so hard to get people to understand how painful some movements are, especially when the degree of pain changes from day to day

    • barbara nascimben says:

      Hi Linda. Totally know what you mean. I have been complaining for about 5 years now about pain and weakness in my arms and everybody says things like “you’re out of shape” or “if you don’t use it you lose it” So how do you explain that you do everything the same as always but are slowly becoming unable to do these things. Thanks for confirming that I’m not making things up:)

  3. Barb says:

    I just finished reading this article. I am having muscle pain in my arms that I believe is related to the continued knitting and crocheting I have done these past few months. I have FM along with SLE (lupus), so a double whammy – I am trying to lay off these projects for a few weeks to see if they will improve. Hoping the rest will improve and I can go back to knitting and/or crocheting in short spurts of time when everything is better. Anyone else out there with same problem? Thanks for being there.

    • Sara says:

      Yes I’m in th fibro and lupus situation. I get such pain after repetitive movements never give up though!

    • Helen says:

      I also suffer from FM. I am glad to know Im not alone. As with most of the things I have read, people always say your lazy or all you do is complain. They have no idea how much it effects a person mentally an physcially. I also have problems with the disc in my lower back. I just wish there was away to stop it. To all of you I understand an know what your going thru.

  4. Debbie Evans says:

    Oh this is so true, it seems to me as an fm, cfs sufferer. Everything I do is with this bloody awful condition. I have been suffering Carpal Tunnel syndrome in my right wrist, have had an injection to ease the pain but everything i do makes a flare up imminent. I HATE FIBRO :(

    • laurie says:

      I have it too and like you said, I hate it too!! p.s. my mom is bugging me to start a gluten free diet. I’ve asked several dr.s about this and while they say it does no harm, I’ve never heard about it doing good. she heard a story someone told her that a woman had Fibo for 35 years, went gluten free and was all better after that? Any response? Thanks.

      • Chris says:

        I have been gluten free for twenty years But my fibro continues to get worse.. even a short burst of activity.. like vaccumming one room will start the muscle burning… 10 mins light gardening….etc… gluten free can help a lot of people with symptoms that they dont realise are not fibro related… To test yourself, i recommend go gluten free for at least 2 weeks

      • Theresa says:

        I have had fibromyalgia for 9 years. Gluten free does make a HUGE difference. I also need to stay away from cow dairy and peanuts, but even gluten alone cuts my pain and stiffness by 90%. If it is going to make a difference, you should feel very different in about 4 days. Although it takes dedication, since gluten is hidden in many products, it has been more than worth it for me. Good luck.

        • Ellen Moliskey says:

          There are several different reasons why a person contracts Fibromyalgia. Some people are misdiagnosed when they actually may have Myofacial Pain. Yes there is a difference they say. I was diagnosed with Chronic Myofacial Pain/Fibro/Chronic Migraines/Occipital Neuralgia/Chronic Fatigue in 2003 and have been living with the increasing pain and suffering since. No diet changes have made any difference

      • Loretta says:

        I am glutien and lactose free and it has nothing to do with the fibro pain but does help with bloating, constipation, irratable bowels. So any part of relief i will take.

      • tplanford says:

        I went vegetarian 6 years ago for animal welfare reasons & experienced huge improvement in my fibro. Still a daily struggle, of course, but my function & energy level skyrocketed!

      • April says:

        I was diagnosed a year ago with Fibro. I am fighting back with nutrition. Eating a plant-based diet has relieved me of the biggest bulk of my everyday pain. I can still over-do it and hurt myself. Next, my biggest obstacle to overcome is fatigue. A plant-blased diet takes a lot of dedication but it’s been worth the pay off for me.

  5. Kathy pounds says:

    I am have trouble with doctors in athem healthcare medical bluecross. They are very uneducated in my illness

    . Can you help me find a doctor in athem that has experience.

  6. Linda Norris says:

    I was a former x-ray technologist until Fibromyalgia and Lupus forced me to give up my career. The constant repetitive daily motions 8-10 hours a day caused me a great deal of pain in my arms, shoulders, neck and back. It was unbearable at times. That was 11 years ago and I still deal with the headaches today from the muscles in my upper back. It is a never ending battle some days.

    • Ellen Moliskey says:

      Hello Linda Norris, Your’s is the first story that sounds a lot like my own. I was a school bus driver until fibro/me/cfs and all that goes with hit me in 2003. It forced me to stop working in the summer of 2008 at which time I learned i could file for SSDI I am still struggling to get. Appeals up the ying yang. I have full body pain and so much so in my upper trapezius area I get migraines.

      • Rosemary Walker says:

        Ellen, please don’t give up on applying for your SSDI!
        i have been trying since 2006. got it 2012. After they made me start over 3 times which made me not eligible for SS with not enough hours during my none working years since 2005 of non work. But don’t give up! Am still appealing for back time since the only gave a few months of that. And just remember God got it! From~~~
        Rosemary 56 yrs…

  7. Sherry says:

    Love being outside in warm weather but learned I do better to weed a bit, rest, weed, then sit til there’s enough for the handled 5 gal bucket so I can straighten up walking across big yard to dump it. I do so much better when I putz ‘n rest so I can do a little more to keep/stay healthy. (insulin dependent for almost 48 yrs) ;)

  8. janbrooks says:

    SO WHY i have it in my neck & right side of head & face as well….its driving me maaad…

  9. Catherine Arredondo says:

    I worked as an ICU Nurse working with people who had solid organ transplants when I got diagnosed. I developed a latex allergy and my fibromyalgia flares were severe and frequent I became disabled 2 years later. My pain was poorly controlled. I became isolated and depressed. On medication for depression and pain. I tried a lot of treatments but still fighting the same fight. Never give up!

  10. Terri says:

    Does anyone experience groin pain, and from one side to the other? Gentle hugs to all with this terrible disease.

    • Janie Haislip says:

      I have just started to experience groin pain that also affect the top part of the left leg that sweeps to the groin. Is this fibro related?

    • Elaine says:

      Terri, I do…I also experience every sympton I have read here…especially the upper body, neck and head with the headaches. Also the front of the thighs and groin. Anything repetitive with the arms is agony…but still the worst is trying to sleep at night…the shoulder and arm pain is worse then..enough to wake me up groaning and making the dogs bark!

      • Pat says:

        Hey, I am 75 yrs. old and I can remember sitting on my Daddy lap & him rubbing my legs to try to help the pain in my legs. As I got older, I would have pain in my legs & hips. I have gone to every kind of Dr. known & until a few years ago, a Dr. told me he thought I have FB. I have been on several meds., but none have helped much unless I miss 1, then I can tell they really do help some.

  11. Nicola Balfour says:

    Hi everyone I got diagnosed last summer with fibromyalgia after 5 and half years of blood tests, but since last summer my fibromyalgia has been haven alot more flair Ups, now I have really bad depression,I have sciatica,low levels of vitamin b12 and dilate which i am now on injections 1 every 3 months, i am on lyrica 400mg a day – they are from hospital for fibromyalgia pain but it isn’t working.

    • Elaine says:

      I am so relieved to see other people experience the same symptoms and pain (Not that I would wish this on anyone ever). It is just that now I do not feel like I am crazy although I still think other people think I am lol. I have had symptoms for about 6 or 7 seven years and was just diagnosed a few weeks ago…so many things make sense now.

      • barbara nascimben says:

        Same with me Elaine. I had symptoms for about 5 yrs and was just diagnosed. It all makes sense now. Not that it makes things any better but at least I know what it is and can learn to deal with it the best I can. Doctor put me on Cymbalta, hopefully it will help.

    • Annemarie says:

      I have had pain all over since the age of 12, never knew why,always on the go. My Mom said it is “growing pains”..My growing pains NEVER stopped..I was diagnosed 3 years ago, and FINALLY I can give a name to my sickness..FB. I sooo wish some doctors in South Africa will use my body as a gineaupigg to make some meds which will help us all….Lyrica 175mg and 75mg does not help.

      • Veronica Ross says:

        Hi Annemarie.I am also a South African and, my Mom also used to say the pains I experienced were “growing pains” or “just a touch of Fibrocytis” (sp?).When I was diagnosed about 15 years ago with Fibro, the specialist said my Mum had diagnosed me then.I have learned to “pace” myself – frustrating, yes but very necessary. Avoid stress as much as poss. too.To sleep I take Tripiline 20 mg(2…

      • tina says:

        Very curious any one told they had growing pain growing up.
        Wondering if it might indicate anything.

  12. Nicola says:

    I hate having fibromyalgia tiredness and pains with trying to do normal house work i am only 33 and my mom’s in her 60s and she can do more than me which makes me so depressed and other family just say iam lazy. It’s horrible and I cry alot but don’t seem to get very far with doctors. What are people with fibromyalgia meant to do if doctors can’t even get the pain away? :(

    • Ellen Moliskey says:

      I hear you. I am only 52, my mother is 87 and she can run circles around me. I am blessed that she and a brother and 2 sisters understand my plight but there are others that look at me as if collecting state disability is taking welfare. I have been unable to work and support myself since 2007, and am fighting for my dignity. At this point of my suffering i will take whatever help I can get :(

    • Laura says:

      Hi Nicola — I read the comment you wrote in September 2012 & I couldn’t relate more. I am 32 years old & have probably had Fibro since I was 24 or 25 although I didn’t get diagnosed until 2011. Even w/ this diagnosis, I do not feel like I get anywhere w/ doctors either & Social Security thinks the drugs I have been prescribed are managing my pain well enough. The best we can do is keep trying.

  13. Thea Engelbrecht says:

    Hey Barb

    I’ve got the same problem. I WILL keep going on with my hobby. That’s all thats keeping me sane. On top of the pain in my hands and shoulders at night i’ve got swelling of my hands as well. It only subsides by midday.

    Keep going strong!

  14. Faye says:

    I haven’t seen anyone say anything about having it in childhood. I did. Mama would take me to doctors that all ended up saying basically the same thing . It was my weight caused any pain IF it was real. I was heavy because I didn’t feel well enough to PLAY for the exercise to keep weight down. Thank God I did have a break with remission from aprox 15 to in my 20s. Still weight or imagination…

  15. Vivien Cain says:

    I’ve had fibro for years and doing any type of housework is killer. Hate to sweep, mop or vacuum — my lower back goes right into spasms. We’ve had heavy rains every day for at least 2 weeks, plus spent a few days in the hospital with food poisoning. They gave me shots to prevent clots (I had a pericardial window done in December) and that REALLY made it flare. Gentle hugs!

  16. Sue says:

    I have had CFS for 20 years and was on antidepressants which did help clear my head and stop pain and made me sleep, but my blood pressure went up too high so I went off these. I am now studying nursing and am not on medication and was told that I have fibromyalgia and I am in constant pain of which massages help but they get too expensive. Just have to live with it I guess.

  17. Alice says:

    I have fibro and also had tendonitis. This is what has worked for me: eating clean (stay away from additives, preservatives, flavor enhancers, artificial sweeteners, soy, wheat), yoga, acupuncture, appropriate supplements. I still have flares now and then due to weather, stress or I’ve done too much.

  18. paulfdoig says:

    Study doesn’t consider the time standing or length of time in chronic pain. Chronic pain suffers experience higher levels of pain tolerance over time, probably due to the nerve damage of the constant pain and the medication. I know they are completely 2 different pains. I have had multiple back surgeries. Stress on the back is a time thing.

  19. debra k whaley says:

    I just found out a few months ago I had fibro and people just dont get it. You hurt everyday of your life and they think your crazy. I have a lot of headaches. Also somedays you want to stay in bed but it’s better to keep going.

  20. Tanya says:

    I was diagnosed with Fibro 5 years ago but I also have chronic lower back pain. I’m a nurse so I have a lot of repetitive bending, reaching, lifting and pulling…it’s hard to know if it’s my pain is chronic back pain or my Fibro. What I do know is that I have suffered a lot of injuries to my lower back and with each injury my pain is worse. I’m in the gym twice a week now.

  21. Marianne says:

    I am 65 and do believe I have had FMS my whole life. They put a name on it in 1989. As I age it is getting more intense. But I move around as much as possible every day. Good days and bad, but I try to love and laugh. For depression I get out of the house if only for a short period. My heart goes out to everyone who has this disease. But we are strong and can get thru this together. Love to all…

  22. Susan says:

    I have fibro and it stops me from doing most repetitive types of things. Thankfully, so far, I can still type, tho not as fast or as well. I also have Celiac Disease, and once I went gluten free I got to get out of adult diapers and kepy weight on. I’m not sure about this “gluten free” diet as a fad though. :(

  23. Elaine says:

    Does anyone have trouble with falling? It seems to get worse as the FM symptom get worse. It happens so fast and with no warning that I can no longer even get my arms up to break my fall..have whacked my forehead on several occasions now…

  24. JANET GALE OTTEN says:


  25. Lisa-Marie says:

    I can relate to this research study, I am I’m constant pain and I try to ignore it, not acknowledge its existence. As the day wears on though and I try to achieve the tasks I need to achieve it becomes increasingly difficult to the point of impossible to ignore, even with pain relief. This and struggling to sleep just leaves me feeling constantly knackered!

  26. Trish says:

    My fibro presented as OOS or RSI (repetitive strain injury) when I was 24 and working in a call centre. About a month later after going for a run, the pain spread throughout my whole body and I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Even when had a remission from it for few years (and was capable of a half-marathon run), I still couldn’t type a lot. Now I’m 39 and live with it to a moderate degree.

  27. Vanessa Solesky says:

    I have fibromyalgia, but I also have chronic low back pain caused by four moderately bulging discs. I have severe depression caused by the pain. I am just having a really hard time. I have friends/relatives that tell me to just suck it up and try to be positive. They think I can just jump up and suddenly be fine. I wish they could understand. I have a couple friends that do along with my mom and that helps.

  28. annedesigns says:

    I was diagnosed with FM 2 years ago. I suffer with so much pain, its a daily struggle. I make jewelry. I make something everyday, it helps with my pain. I am having surgery this year as I am also suffering with severe stenosis and disc is colasping. I stay positive through my jewelry making, it gives me strength. I have 18/18 trigger points, allodynia, and severe stenosis at C6 &C7.

  29. Marlene Heytvelt says:

    I have Myofascial Pain Syndrome/fibromyalga. I found a Physical Therapist who does myofascia release and fibromyalgia trigger points. Fascia turns from oily to glue in Fibro and glues things together. Must separate organs/muscles/nerves.

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