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Effective & Doable Exercise for Fibromyalgia

When you were diagnosed, your fibromyalgia doctor probably told you to exercise and maybe even gave you a brochure. But you may have left thinking, "How in the world am I going to exercise? I can barely do what I have to do!"

In this article, we look at which forms of exercise are most effective and how most people with fibromyalgia CAN do them.

Physical exercise is one of the most useful interventions to alleviate chronic pain symptoms in fibromyalgia. Some people may find exercising difficult at first, but building up gradually and persisting can bring numerous benefits.

I found that taking a comfortably hot shower before exercise will help relax muscles and relieve discomfort. As muscle strength builds over time, any pain and discomfort should wane.

Fibromyalgia patients might experiment with different approaches to find the exercise routine that works best for them. People concerned about the impact of aerobic exercise should consider low-impact exercise, such as swimming, stretching, or walking.

Evidence-supported options include:
 

Aerobic Exercise

Studies suggest that running and walking can help with fibromyalgia symptoms.

Aerobic exercises, such as running or walking, can help with many fibromyalgia symptoms. A 2017 review analyzed previous studies of aerobic exercise to treat fibromyalgia. The review found that aerobic exercise can improve quality of life, stiffness, and pain, and may improve muscle function.

A Cochrane systematic review concluded that doing regular aerobic exercise, including swimming, walking, or cycling, is likely to improve health-related quality of life for people with fibromyalgia. It may also lead to better physical function and reduced pain, fatigue, and stiffness.

However, there is no evidence that exercise helps with fatigue.
 

Group Exercise

Exercise classes can help people with fibromyalgia stay motivated. Consider starting with a low-intensity yoga, tai chi, or aerobics class.

Some gyms and recreation centers offer exercise classes specifically for people with fibromyalgia, chronic pain, or low mobility. These classes provide a safe environment for people who are just getting started with physical fitness or who are dealing with challenging symptoms.
 

Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong

These three are all gentle and slow disciplines that combine controlled movements with meditation and deep breathing. All three can help people ease fibromyalgia symptoms.

Yoga
 

Yoga is a helpful form of therapeutic exercise used to reduced symptoms of fibromyalgia, a study by the Oregon Health & Science University suggested. It involves breath control, meditation, and the adoption of specific body postures. In contemporary practice, yoga focuses more on the physical aspects and is widely used to promote health and relaxation. Studies have shown yoga to be effective for reducing pain and fatigue and improving mood, and ability to relax in FM patients.

Yoga offers gentle stretching, mind-body awareness, and a slow and steady approach to physical fitness. A 2017 study found that yoga may help with many fibromyalgia symptoms, including perceived disability, depression, and fear of movement.

This study suggests that yoga might also serve as a bridge to other forms of exercise, such as aerobics, for people whose symptoms prevent them from doing higher intensity exercise.

Yoga is also very accessible, with classes offered at gyms and community centers in most places. Many yoga videos are also available online, including some designed specifically for chronic pain.

Tai chi

Tai chi (pronounced ty-CHEE) is a Chinese practice that involves slow, gentle movements coordinated with deep breathing and mental focus. Initially developed for self-defense, tai chi is now used for stress reduction and to improve balance and flexibility. Studies have found that FM patients who participated in tai chi reported improvements in pain, mood, sleep, exercise capacity, and quality of life. A study in 2010 indicated that tai chi might be an effective treatment for fibromyalgia.

It encourages mind-body awareness so that it may help with both the physical and psychological symptoms of fibromyalgia.

A 2018 study found that Yang-style supervised tai chi could be as effective or more effective than aerobic exercise for managing fibromyalgia symptoms.

Participants in the study got the most relief when they attended tai chi classes frequently and regularly. People who attended two classes a week for 24 weeks had the most significant improvements in symptom measures as indicated by the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire.

That group saw an average 16.2-point reduction in symptoms. An 8.1-point symptom reduction is considered clinically significant.

Qigong

Qigong (pronounced chee-GONG) is also a Chinese practice that involves coordinating slow flowing movement, deep rhythmic breathing, and a calm meditative state of mind. It is thought to relax the mind, muscles, tendons, joints, and other organs, which helps improve circulation, ease stress, reduce pain, and restore overall health. Studies have found qigong to be effective for improving pain, function, sleep quality, and overall quality of life in FM patients.
 

Resistance & Strength Training


Resistance training strengthens the muscles and can improve symptoms of fibromyalgia. A 2015 study of women with fibromyalgia found that progressive resistance training was associated with better overall health, pain relief, and muscle strength.

A wide range of strength training routines, from group strength classes to lifting small weights at home, may help. (I started with a can of soup in each hand.)

The participants also reported a decrease in symptom severity, although there did not seem to be a link between the two factors.

A physical therapist can help set up a suitable program.

 

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NOTE: People with fibromyalgia should speak with a healthcare provider before starting an exercise regimen.

References:

https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD012700/full  

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286745.php

https://ard.bmj.com/content/76/Suppl_2/1468.1

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/depression-causes-symptoms-treatments-8933  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3023168/  

https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k851.full

https://arthritis-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13075-015-0679-1  

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283005908_Normalization_of_aberrant_resting_state_functional_connectivity_in_fibromyalgia_patients_following_a_three_month_physical_exercise_therapy

https://thetruestoriesstories.blogspot.com/search?q=fibromyalgia