Best Exercises for Fibromyalgia
Exercise can be hard to think about when your body hurts, but it can actually help soothe fibromyalgia pain—and your frustration around it.
Fibro Fitness Can Reduce Pain
Fibromyalgia causes chronic body pain, muscle and tissue tenderness, and sleep problems. Painful areas known as “tender points” in the neck, back, elbows, and knees can cause a shooting pain that can be quite severe.
However, exercise can help relieve your fibro pain and help you cope with your condition. Click through the slideshow to learn the best kinds of workouts to soothe symptoms.
First Step: Get Active
Many doctors recommend an exercise and fitness program as the first line of treatment for fibromyalgia—before any type of medication is even considered. Even if your doctor prescribes medication for your condition, staying active should be a key part of your overall treatment plan.
According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), research shows that 12 weeks of moderate aerobic training—as well as strength training—can improve pain and overall wellbeing. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that exercising regularly is one of the most effective ways to treat fibromyalgia.
The Mayo Clinic lists walking as the number one form of exercise for fibromyalgia. This is because walking is a low-impact aerobic activity that can be safely done to bring oxygen to your muscles and decrease your pain and stiffness.
The American Heart Association (AHA) confirms that shorter periods of exercise throughout the day can be nearly as beneficial as a longer stint. The NLM recommends starting off slowly (for example, with 10-minute walks) and building up to 30 minutes of walking a day.
Turn on the Heat
Warm water and light exercise…ahh. This soothing combo is a winner to help ease the pain of fibromyalgia. Research published in Arthritis Research & Therapy found that women who practiced an aquatic exercise regimen in a heated pool for just an hour three times weekly noticed fewer fibromyalgia symptoms than those who skipped a warm water workout.
In one major study, participants found benefit from an eight-month program with 10 minutes of water walking warm-up, 10 minutes of moderate aerobics, 20 minutes of strength and mobility exercises, and a 10-minute light cool down. (Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2008).
Stretch It Out
Exercise doesn’t have to make you break out in a sweat to be useful for fibromyalgia patients. The Mayo Clinic advises that activities as simple as stretching, relaxation exercises, and even good posture can make a big difference in easing pain. However, be careful not to overdo it and avoid stretching at the wrong time.
It’s best to stretch stiff muscles after you’ve completed some light aerobic exercise, not before then, to avoid injury. Stretch gently, and be sure never to stretch to the point of pain. Hold light stretches for up to a minute in order to get the best benefit.
According to the NLM, research suggests that strength training can significantly reduce the pain of fibromyalgia while improving overall wellbeing. Strengthening workouts that involve using resistance machines or lifting weights can be appropriate for fibromyalgia patients, as long as the intensity is increased slowly and weights are kept light.
Start as low as one to three pounds. Studies have shown regular strength training over the course of 12 weeks can result in a significant drop in pain, tender points, and even depression.
Chores Count Too!
If you’re not big on the gym or have times when you feel too much fatigue or pain for more vigorous exercise, the NIH suggests that gentle exercise can still help ease fibromyalgia symptoms. A study published in Arthritis Research & Therapy found that even doing small amounts of everyday activities like vacuuming or scrubbing can help you feel less pain and function better. According to results, just 30 minutes a day of such chores made a difference.
Stick with It
The Mayo Clinic reports that working out can sometimes initially increase the pain of fibromyalgia. But don’t give up. Build up slowly to a regular habit of activity and your symptoms will likely decrease.
If you need help getting started, your doctor or physical therapist can recommend exercises to do at home. If you pace yourself, you can avoid overdoing it when you feel good—and “under-doing it” when you feel a fibro flare—to arrive at a healthy balance.