Fibromyalgia and Exercise

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It is common knowledge that we all benefit from exercise. But, it is especially important for people with fibromyalgia (FM) to exercise as it reduces fatigue, increases energy, improves joint flexibility, and improves sleep quality and mood. In essence, exercise allows FM sufferers to live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life!

With that said, it is important to realize that not all exercises are right for every individual person. Therefore, when introducing new activities and exercises into your routine, do NOT do too many new or different exercises all at the same time as you will not be able to recognize those that may not be right for you. Rather, pick one or maybe two new exercises at the most and incorporate them into your routine so that you can “prove” that they “work for you.” Then, if you get worse, you’ll be able to confidently identify the exercise that may not be right for you.

The focus of deciding which exercises are “right for you” is usually based on the presence or absence of pain and hence, we should discuss pain. There are “good” and “bad” forms of pain. A “good” pain does NOT feel harmful – that is, knife-like or lancinating or, severe intense pain. Rather, it should feel, “…like a good stretch,” or, a pain that, “…hurts good.” In fact, sore muscles after exercising prove that you’ve accomplished something positive. It’s usually noticed the day or two after a new exercise or activity is started and then subsides gradually. It will actually “go away” quicker if you perform the same activity or exercise within a few days after the initial session and after the 2nd or 3rd time, it will usually not give you that “post-exercise soreness” type of pain and you can gradually increase the exercise after that point.

Here are some specific recommendations for implementing exercise safely and successfully. Because FM seems to exaggerate pain, make sure to:

  1. Start out slow: Begin with only a few repetitions, move only so far (stay within “reasonable” pain boundaries), and do only 1 or 2 sets, maybe 5 minutes max of a particular maneuver. Remember, if you do too much and really hurt a lot afterwards, you may become afraid to exercise again and that’s the WORST thing that could happen!
  2. Self-Massage, hot or cold: Consider light self-applied massage with or without moist heat (but no more than 20 minutes / hour – don’t “swell it up” by leaving heat on for longer than 30 minutes. If pain is more intense (>5/10 on a 0-10 scale, for example), use ice after exercising, usually for 15-20 minutes (on 15/off 15/on 15/off 15/on 15 = 1.25 hours), so it can act like a pump to remove swelling more efficiently. Talk to us about heat or cool rubs or gels.
  3. Personalize: Because you’re unique, personalize your program so it becomes “yours.” Remember, you are not like the next person and you must design a program that “works” for you. Pick things you like to do so you look forwards to doing it – bike riding, brisk walking, swimming, canoeing, hiking off road, weight lifting (emphasizing low weight/high reps), and so on – PICK SOME ACTIVITIES THAT YOU LIKE TO DO!
  4. Aerobic exercises: Consider starting with an aerobic (heart pumping) type of exercise. Many studies have reported that aerobics offer greater benefits compared to stretching, for the FM patient. Start with a low impact cardiovascular exercise like walking. Even sitting on a gym ball and gently bouncing for 5 minutes gets the heart pumping quite nicely and, it’s fun! Swimming and bicycling are good, non-pounding types of exercises as well.
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