Fibromyalgia -- with its muscle pain, relentless fatigue, disturbed sleep, and feelings of depression -- is a common diagnosis. And if you have fibromyalgia, you want to feel better, today and everyday. By making simple exercise modifications, you can boost your energy, decrease pain and stiffness, and start to be more active again. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Fibromyalgia Exercises: Warming Up
To prevent injury, it’s vital to warm up before exercising. A warm-up should begin with gentle joint rotations, starting from your toes and working your way up the body. Perform slow, circular movements (clockwise and counter-clockwise) until all your joints -- from toes, ankles, knees, and legs, to hips, trunk, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, and knuckles -- move smoothly. Never take these rotations to the point of pain.
Stretch More, Hurt Less
Stretching improves circulation to the muscles and joints for everyone, including people with fibromyalgia. Stretching also increases your range of motion so that moving around becomes easier over time. Daily stretching lubricates the joints and sends nutrients and oxygen to the muscles.
Stretching the Calves
To perform this move: facing a wall, place palms flat on the wall, one foot forward, and one foot back. Leaving your heels on the floor, lean forward. As you do so, feel the pull in your calf and the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle. Hold the position for 30 seconds. Do three repetitions. Then reverse the position of your legs and repeat.
Boost Muscle, Mood, Strength
Studies show that strengthening exercises using free weights decrease pain and even reduce depression in people with fibromyalgia. What’s most important with strength training is not the weight, but the range of movements you take your muscles through. Get tips at a fitness center for using handheld weights, elastic bands, or machines for resistance, because done improperly these exercises can make your pain symptoms worse.
Isometric Chest Press
If regular strength training is painful, isometrics is another way to build muscle. Isometrics involve tensing the muscle without any visible movement. With your arms at chest height, press palms together as hard as you can. Hold for 5 seconds; then rest for 5 seconds. Do 5 repetitions. Slowly build to holding the press for 10-15 seconds at a time. If this exercise is painful, ask a trainer to show you another isometric chest exercise.
Isometric Shoulder Extension
This isometric exercise is done standing with your back against a wall and your arms at your sides. With your elbows straight, push your arms back toward the wall. Hold for 5 seconds, and then rest. You can repeat this 10 times. If this exercise is painful, ask a trainer to show you another isometric shoulder exercise.
Ice May Ease Fibromyalgia Pain
When you’re hurting, cold compresses can ease swelling by constricting blood vessels. Although cold packs can be uncomfortable at first, they may help numb the deep muscle pain of fibromyalgia.
How Much Exercise Is Enough?
Some research shows that exercising twice a week for 25 minutes each time can result in immediate improvement of fibromyalgia symptoms. If you’re just getting started with exercise, choose a low- to moderate-intensity exercise such as mall walking, swimming, water aerobics, using a kickboard in a pool, yoga, tai chi, or biking. Start slow, gradually increasing the duration and intensity as you can.
Add Daily Living Activities
Experts say that daily living activities and household chores such as playing with kids, mopping floors, washing windows, mowing the yard, and gardening can help when it comes to increasing fitness -- and reducing fibromyalgia symptoms.
Yoga for Body/Mind Fitness
Yoga, which combines exercises, stretching, and meditation, is a great way to increase fitness when you have fibromyalgia. The physical postures (asanas) can help alleviate aches and pains, concentration exercises (dharana) help overcome fibro fog, and meditation (dhyana) help you concentrate on the present instead of focusing on your pain. Join a yoga class at your local community center or fitness center.
Gentle or Intense Yoga?
The gentle practice of Viniyoga combines deep breathing with gentle stretching. This type of yoga is a great way to improve health and well-being, particularly for those who face health challenges such as fibromyalgia. With all types of yoga, it’s important to find a good instructor who understands fibromyalgia’s challenges. Ask your support group, fibromyalgia community, or doctor for recommendations.
Qigong for Fibromyalgia Muscle Pain
Called the “mother of Chinese healing,” qigong (pronounced chee-gong) combines meditation dance, movement, and breathing exercises. Studies on qigong and fibromyalgia show this traditional Chinese exercise helps improve energy, decreases fatigue, and alleviates pain. Contact the National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association for more information.
Tai Chi and Fibromyalgia Flexibility
Tai chi is another alternative exercise for fibromyalgia that emphasizes relaxation. Some have even said tai chi is like “meditation in motion,” with dramatic, flowing movements instead of forceful actions. The goal of tai chi is to bring the principles of yin and yang into harmony. Sign up for a tai chi class at your fitness or community center.
Heat Therapy for Fibromyalgia Pain
Afraid exercise will be painful when you have fibromyalgia? Try heat applications before and after exercise to ease pain and stiffness. Heat therapy boosts your body's own healing force, dilating blood vessels, stimulating blood circulation, reducing muscle spasms, and altering the sensation of pain. You can try dry heat -- like heating pads or heat lamps -- or moist heat, such as warm baths or heated wash cloths.
American Academy of Family Physicians: "Fibromyalgia and Exercise."
American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association: "What is Fibromyalgia?"
Arthritis Foundation: "Fibromyalgia: What Is It?""Fibromyalgia: What Causes It?" "Fibromyalgia: Treatment Options."
Fibromyalgia Network: "Symptoms," "Treatment Studies."
McIlwain, H. Diet for a Pain-Free Life, Marlowe, 2007.
McIlwain, H. The Fibromyalgia Handbook, Holt, 2007.
MedLine Plus: "Fibromyalgia."
National Fibromyalgia Association: "Understanding Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain," "What are the Symptoms?"
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:" Fibromyalgia," "Fast Facts About Fibromyalgia."
National Institutes of Health: "The Effect of Qigong on Fibromyalgia," "Fast Facts About Fibromyalgia." "Questions and Answers About Fibromyalgia."
National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association.
News release, American Pain Society.
Science Daily: "A Regular Dip in the Pool Could Benefit FMS Sufferers," "Exercise and Education Helps Women with Fibromyalgia."
Smith, H. The Women’s Guide to Ending Pain, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.