DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Before I was diagnosed, I enjoyed playing many sports and was a very physically active person. Since then, I have had to stop most of my activities. I wish I could be as active as I once was. Every time I try to play or exercise, my muscles ache unbearably. How can I get back to where I was? – R.C.

(R.C. is a high-school-age young woman.)

Fibromyalgia causes people to retreat from their usual activities and makes them yearn for the days before it struck.

It’s a peculiar disorder, with more unknown about it than known. Its cause hasn’t been discovered. More women come down with it than men – another unexplained fact. No lab test detects it. X-rays, scans and ultrasound show no abnormality

People afflicted with it complain of widespread body pain. They hurt all over, especially muscles, bones and joints. Exercise aggravates the pain. Joints are stiff early in the morning. Fibromyalgia patients are tired all the time. They never get a decent night’s sleep, and that adds to their fatigue.

During an examination, doctors can detect tender points, specific body sites where pressure of the examining finger elicits pain out of proportion to the pressure. There are 18 of these sites, nine on each side of the body.

More than 70 medicines have been used in treating fibromyalgia. Tylenol and anti-inflammatory medicines such as Aleve, Advil and Motrin are helpful for some. Cymbalta and Lyrica are two medicines that have won Food and Drug Administration approval for treatment of this condition.

Exercise is important, but it must be started at a low level and gradually increased. Water exercises are well-tolerated. If a person can’t keep up with the rest of the class, he or she shouldn’t try to do so. Keep exercise at a level that’s tolerable.

The booklet on fibromyalgia deals with it in greater depth. To order a copy, write to: Dr. Donohue – No. 305, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 23, just graduated from college and have my first full-time job. In high school, I ran track, both distance and sprints. I am trying to get myself back into condition. I can still run distances pretty well, but I can’t sprint. My legs hurt after a very short time. Why? Can I overcome it? – P.M.

Pain from sprinting comes from the buildup of lactic acid, a byproduct of anaerobic exercise, exercise done without the benefit of oxygen. If you haven’t been sprinting for four years, you can’t expect your body to do what it could back then. It takes time for it to gear up to lactic acid. You can overcome it by continuing to practice sprinting at a reduced pace.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I lift weights seven days a week. I see that I am making progress. My arms are much bigger than they were. I’ve been told I’m overdoing it by lifting every day. Am I? – R.S.

It’s not a good idea to perform the same weightlifting exercises on consecutive days. Muscles need a full 24 hours to recover, rebuild and grow after an intense exercise session.

A day of lifting and then a day of rest is a good schedule.

You can lift weights daily if you want to. Just don’t work the same muscles on consecutive days.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do you consider toe-touches a good flexibility exercise? – L.F.

They don’t do a whole lot for me. You can stretch leg muscles in other ways that are easier on joints and on the back.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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