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Exercise and Fibromyalgia

Topic Overview

Exercise is one of the most important treatments for fibromyalgia. Regular exercise will strengthen your muscles, increase blood flow to the muscles to promote healing, and increase your endurance. It also may reduce the risk of tiny injuries to the muscles that may cause more pain. Exercise seems to increase the amount of pressure that a person can tolerate at tender points.1 It may also help you sleep better and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Mild to moderate exercise is appropriate for most people with this condition. A balanced exercise program should include:

  • Low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, biking, or water aerobics. This is the most helpful type of exercise for people who have fibromyalgia, because it builds general strength and endurance.
  • Stretching exercises, which can help relax tight muscles and ease spasms.
  • Strengthening exercises to build stronger muscles.

Moderate activity is safe for most people. But it's always good to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.

The key is to build exercise habits that you practice over the long term. Here are some tips for starting and staying with a good exercise program:

  • Start slowly. Many people with fibromyalgia have been inactive for a long time because of fatigue and pain and should not start a vigorous exercise program. Overexerting yourself may make your symptoms worse.
    • If 3 to 5 minutes of activity are all you can manage at first, just do that.
    • When you're ready, try to exercise a little longer at a time. Increase slowly until you can exercise for 10 minutes at a time.
  • Build up your exercise program bit by bit, and aim for at least 2½ hours a week of moderate exercise. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.
  • Stretch before and after you exercise. This may improve flexibility, maintain good posture, and prevent injury. Stretch slowly and gently. Do not bounce, but keep a gentle pull on the muscle.
  • Keep track of your exercise by making a chart or diary that fits your needs. You may want to include what exercise you did, how long you did it, how hard you think you worked at it, and how you felt during and after the exercise. This will help you see your progress and will also allow you to advance or change your exercise program over time.
  • Stay with it. When you have a flare-up of your symptoms, do not stop exercising. Instead, cut back slightly. Try to build up to your regular routine as soon as possible so that you don't lose any of the benefits you've gained.

References

Citations

  1. Goldenberg DL, et al. (2004). Management of fibromyalgia syndrome. JAMA, 292(19): 2388–2395.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Karin M. Lindholm, DO - Neurology
Last Revised October 20, 2011

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