Lyme Disease is a chronic and debilitating illness which affects thousands of people each year. There has been much research into Lyme Disease and the best form of treatment. It is vital to keep active with any chronic illness, however many individuals with Lyme Disease are unsure how to exercise without aggravating their symptoms.
We recently had the opportunity to devise a therapeutic exercise program for someone with Chronic Lyme Disease with the major goal of improving daily energy which would enable this client to work for longer durations. As Kinesiologists we provide exercise therapy programs for clients with various kinds of illnesses and medical conditions. However, Lyme Disease isn't one that we see too often. As a result, we needed to review the latest scientific research on the effects of exercise on this condition.
According to the BC Ministry of Health there have been 60 cases of Lyme Disease to date in BC, 20 of which had no record of travel outside the province.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is an illness caused by a bacteria, called Borrelia Burgdorfei. The bacteria is transmitted when an infected tick carrying the bacteria in their stomach comes in contact with a person and passes on the infection through a bite. The disease affects the joints, the heart, the skin and the central nervous system (CNS).
The disease progresses in 3 stages:
- Early Localised Disease – After a person has come into contact with a tick and has been bitten the area around the bite develops an expanding red ring; however 1 in 4 people never develop a rash. One will also experience fatigue, muscle & joint soreness, swollen glands and headaches.
- Early Disseminated Disease – The bacterium and its affects can spread throughout the body causing disease in the joints, heart & CNS. If one has developed a rash it will most likely subside in 4 to 6 weeks unlike the other effects of the disease.
- Late Disease – At this stage the effects of the disease will have caused inflammation in the cardiac muscle, causing abnormal rhythm. The CNS can develop facial paralysis and disease of the peripheral nerves leading to impairments in balance and co-ordination. One might also experience headaches and confusion. Other symptoms include arthritis and inflammation of the joints causing stiffness and pain.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Most Lyme Disease can be cured with a course of antibiotics. The type of antibiotic and its effectiveness depends on the stage of the disease. The earlier the disease is diagnosed the greater the chance of a full recovery. For some individuals the antibiotics are ineffective and the disease continues to persist despite the antibiotic intervention.
Exercise Therapy for Lyme Disease
Moderate physical activity is encouraged for people with Lyme Disease. Exercise is vital to stimulate muscle and nerve regeneration but also to move bacteria trapped in the brain and heart into the blood stream where it can be destroyed by the immune system. Exercise will also increase body temperature and blood oxygen levels, creating an inhospitable environment for the bacteria. Furthermore, exercise will drive the antibiotics deeper into the muscle tissues.
While working with a client with Lyme Disease it is important to be aware of how much the central nervous system is fatigued during each training session which is impacted by how much energy the client has expended during the days prior to the session. Although the main goal is to increase energy, too much, too soon can negatively impact the client’s ability to recover and function throughout the rest of the day and the following day.
Since, moderate to intense cardiovascular conditioning in not recommended because it can depress the immune system and cause undue fatigue we are left with resistance training to improve muscular stamina. We started by focusing on gentle body weight exercises to increase joint, spinal stability which added greater core and hip strength so that activities like walking and climbing stairs were less fatiguing while balance also improved.
The exercise program was gradually progressed to using exercise tubing, cables and free weights in more dynamic movements such as presses, rows, deadlifts, and steps ups. The intensity was kept at an individualized light to moderate level so that each activity was enough to stimulate health gains, but not produce too much fatigue. Another way we reduced fatigue was by using self-myofascial release and stretches that improved joint range of motion.
An important part of programs is client education. This included teaching the client pacing strategies as well as proper movement patterns before loading (adding greater levels of difficulty and resistance).
Please contact us at 604.283.1858 if you know of someone who is affected by chronic fatigue or Lyme Disease and is unsure of how to exercise appropriately.
Photo Credit: istock. Contributions by Alfred Ball