Recently, Mountain Ocean Rehab have treated patients with a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia (FM) on top of their primary injury. We wanted to write a blog post on what we have experienced and learnt with our clients.

FM is defined, by the NHS as ‘a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body’. We know as therapists this doesn’t necessarily mean patients experience pain all over the body all of the time, but actually patients can experience pain in particular joints or muscles that can come and go or intensify and then reduce.

Fatigue, trouble sleeping, depression and/or anxiety can also present itself as symptoms within FM. It is because of the multitude of symptoms and the constant fluctuation of pain that patients experience that can cause difficulty in the understanding and ‘treatment’ of the condition. It must be mentioned that FM is diagnosed once all other causes that could explain your pain have been ruled out.

Research currently shows no ‘cure’ for FM but there are different options patients can utilise to help relive some symptoms and improve their quality of life. One of the most important and beneficial options is exercise. And by exercise we mean finding an activity that is enjoyed and regularly participated in.

Aerobic exercise (strong research evidence) and water based exercises (further research needed) are reported by FM patients to be particularly beneficial and surfing incorporates both these elements. Therefore if you are returning to the water from a diagnosis of FM or you are new to surfing, it could be a brilliant way to increase your exercise participation and have some great fun at the same time.

Surfing with friends
The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun! Phil Edwards

Here are some of the many benefits surfing has to offer for FM patients:

  • Cardiovascular and heart health: Walking out against the waves, paddling on the board and standing up riding the waves back in all increase cardiovascular fitness. These different phases of surfing will be increasing your heart rate and strengthening that all important muscle, thus increasing your overall fitness.

  • Muscle strength: Surfing is a brilliant sport for a full body workout. As you surf more regularly you will start to feel your upper body strength improving through the paddle and pop up, your core strength increasing by using these muscles when stabilising yourself on the board either when lying or standing. Lower limb strength will increase whilst in your dynamic stance riding the wave, cutting back and moving up and down your board.

  • Vitamin D Boost: Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. In the UK it is thought that we get our full dose of vitamin D in the summer months through direct sunlight on our skin and what better way to do this than surfing on blue sky sunny days - remember your factor 50 sun cream though!

  • Improved balance and co-ordination: Surfing is tricky to learn and falling off the board is something we all have to go through and certainly adds to the fun of learning to surf. The attempts made to stand and ride on an unstable surface travelling at speed is not only going to improve your balance, but knowing where to place your body and how to move your body during your wave ride will increase your co-ordination.

  • Increased flexibility: The ‘pop-up’ will get you moving your body in ways that you probably haven’t moved before. During this movement you will help to increase the flexibility of your shoulders, upper and lower back and your legs.

  • Improved quality of sleep: Patients who have FM may suffer with sleep because of pain or a lack of energy expenditure during the day. It is known that exercise can help increase the tiredness felt and help get you off to sleep quicker and for longer.

  • Mental health: FM patients may also suffer with anxiety and/or depression and this can contribute to the increase in pain felt in the body. Being in the water, participating in an activity you enjoy helps to clear the mind, reduces stress and gives you time to focus your concentration on something different. It then also gives you a goal to focus on and exercises to try on land to help improve your surfing ability.

  • Burns calories: On average a 1 hour surf session will help you burn around 180-240 calories but this obviously depends on the surf session in hand, the water temperature and the conditions. Either way, you are out there burning calories.

  • Socialising: Being in the water and surrounded by others that also love the sport will only put a smile on your face and increase the serotonin and endorphins travelling around your body. You will return feeling positive, energised and keen to get another surf date in the diary.

Having worked with patients with FM we know that there is a strong element of ‘pacing’ that is required to maintain manageable pain levels and good mental health. Some can fall into the trap of a ‘boom bust cycle’ meaning that on the good days they do lots and then they suffer for doing too much.

With regards to the above benefits, setting goals and slowly immersing yourself into an activity you enjoy and allowing your body to adapt to the stresses of the activity and then giving yourself time to recover and rejuvenate from it will set you up to succeed.

However patients with FM will nearly always suffer with some pain and it is knowing and ensuring that you are in control of this pain and understanding what your limitations are that will help you. Knowing what is FM pain vs other pain, for example an injury, is also important so that you are able to manage this in the correct way.

As long as you are safe in the water and enjoying yourself, that’s all that matters - Happy Surfing!