Fibromyalgia: More Influential Than You Think

In a recent study from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, it’s shown that exercise can actually benefit those with fibromyalgia over the long term.

Granted, fibromyalgia only occurs in about 2% of the American population (3.4% of women, 0.5% of men). However, these 5-6 million adults suffer symptoms that can make it quite difficult to want to exercise. 

  • Morning stiffness: A popular time for exercise for adults is in the morning before going to work, especially among those adults with families.
  • Tingling/Numbness in hands and feet: Would you want to walk, run, or lift weights with numb hands or feet?
  • Headaches (including migraines)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome: This can go hand in hand with, or be exacerbated by, poor nutrition. A well-structured wellness program addresses the nutrition side of this.
  • Sleep disturbances: The importance of sleep to cognitive function, alertness, and productivity is well-known.

Now, here’s where the rubber really meets the road when it comes to fibromyalgia, personal health, and your employees:

  • Most fibromyalgia sufferers are diagnosed at middle age. In other words, they’re getting hit at times in their careers where they hold higher positions within the company, shoulder more responsibility, are paid more, and need the work (family obligations).
  • Working adults with fibromyalgia miss up to 17 work days per year (compare to 6 for non-sufferers).
  • Working women with the disease who are hospitalized for occupational musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were up to 10x more likely to not return to work, and 4x less likely to keep work in the year after hospitalization.
  • Yearly direct and indirect costs for an individual with fibromyalgia are nearly $6,000.

Fibromyalgia is also loosely correlated with obesity. This doesn’t mean they aren’t related — it just means the former isn’t directly correlated with causing the latter. As one might guess, the above symptoms are likely to reduce someone’s desire to exercise, thereby increasing sedentary behavior. More sedentary behavior, more depressed feelings about the condition and not being active, and more dissatisfaction with quality of life can all combine to form a dangerous cocktail of depression and over-eating.

Now you get all the costs associated with depressed adults and overweight/obese adults: lower productivity, higher medical costs from weight-related illnesses, higher medication costs, more absenteeism…

It’s a classic snowball effect. Stop the snowflakes before they become an avalanche. If your organization has a handful of people with fibromyalgia, it is important to help them realize that they can fight it with exercise (and diet). How to structure the exercise and diet is up to the individual, but providing the support system of a wellness program can help a sufferer break out of a vicious downward spiral.

Have any of your wellness programs successfully helped a fibromyalgia sufferer? How’d you/they do it?

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