Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder, occurring in 2% of individuals, and sometimes more common among women than men. This condition increases with age and it is associated with fatigue, pain, sleep and mood issues. According to the MayoClinic, this condition may show up after an experience of repetitive nerve stimulation which involves an increase in certain brain chemicals which serve to signal pain. This leads to the brain’s pain receptors to become more sensitised. Factors that may lead to this would include genetic factors, infections, physical or emotional events which may involve prolonged psychological stress.

According to some research carried in the regards of body image and fibromyalgia (FM), one can see that body image is greatly affected by this condition. Body image is the way an individual perceives the body and thinks or feels about it. This means the way a person views and asses his / her appearance, size and shape, it’s functionality, and the positive and negative affect that comes with these views. “In the medical and psychological literatures, chronic pain, profound physical changes, and their resultant feelings reportedly influence individuals’ perceptions of self-identity, self-esteem, and mood, and consequently affect their response to disease, and their likelihood to engage in selfcare measures … unwanted physical changes to our bodies due to illness, … can affect body image, resulting in poor self-esteem and reduced quality of life. (Larsson, 2020).

One of the important aspects of body image when it comes to individuals experiencing FM is the functionality of their body. The fact that the individual experiences uncontrolled pain, fatigue and the probability of weight gain due to this and due to the prescribed medications, means that the functionality of the body is perceived low. We tend to define ourselves by the way our body looks or functions. In the case of FM, the body image may be negative when the individual focuses on the areas being affected; ex body parts affected by pain, mental function, self-identity, health care experiences, physical limitations and also lifestyle limitations which all have an impact on the overall quality of life.

One aspect that has been found to help with FM and pain is exercise of moderate / low intensity- such as walking, swimming and resistance exercise. According to Soriano-Maldonado, “Physical fitness was directly associated with information processing speed, working memory, delayed recall, verbal learning and delayed recognition in women with fibromyalgia. Aerobic fitness was the most important component of physical fitness in relation to the cognitive processes evaluated, although motor agility could also have a relevant influence.”

This means that although physical exercise may be difficult to engage with when suffering from FM, it is a strong recommendation since it positively influences the symptoms, physical capacity and also health related quality of life. When individuals take part in moderate / low intensity exercise, they are forming a more positive relationship with their body and a more positive self-image. This was evidenced by the participants in the study by Larsson (2020) who described “being driven by a desire to be physically active. They expressed a need to be physically active, knowing that it was good for them, and described positive effects experienced during and after physical activity. Their desire to be physically active was strengthened by their fear of getting worse. Positive experiences of physical activity and the self-image of being a physically active person prior to being ill appeared to further strengthen this desire.”

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on or call us on 79291817. 


Boyington, Josephine E A, Schoster, Britta, & Callahan, Leigh F. (2015). Comparisons of Body Image Perceptions of a Sample of Black and White Women with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia in the US. The Open Rheumatology Journal, 9(1), 1-7.

Alberto Soriano-Maldonado, Enrique G. Artero, Víctor Segura-Jiménez, Virgina A. Aparicio, Fernando Estévez-López, Inmaculada C. Álvarez-Gallardo, Diego Munguía-Izquierdo, Antonio J. Casimiro-Andújar, Manuel Delgado-Fernández & Francisco B. Ortega (2016) Association of physical fitness and fatness with cognitive function in women with fibromyalgia, Journal of Sports Sciences, 34:18, 1731-1739

 Larsson A, Feldthusen C, Mannerkorpi K. Factors promoting physical activity in women with fibromyalgia: a qualitative interview study. BMJ Open 2020;10:e031693.