Exercise to Treat Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

When your body is in chronic pain from fibromyalgia, it can be tempting to remain sedentary.  But in reality the worst thing for pain is bedrest. 

Limiting your movements will weaken muscles, putting even more strain on your connective tissues to support your skeleton.  Non-movement also leads to reduced elasticity of connective tissues, leading to stiffness and pain.

In fibromyalgia, the muscle cells and nerve cells are normal on a microscopic level.  If you biopsied the muscles of a patient with fibromyalgia, they would look normal. 

So, why does it hurt? 

Researchers think that the pain stems from abnormal processing of pain signals, leading to the perception of pain without tissue damage being present. 

Because the muscle fibers are normal, it is essential to continue to exercise in order to treat the pain.  In fact, even patients who have pathological muscle diseases and joint diseases still do better when they exercise on a regular basis than those who don’t. 

"Practiced regularly, exercises will strengthen the muscles and restore flexibility to the soft tissues."

fibromyalgia back pain What type of exercise should you do? 

You should include flexibility, strengthening, balance, and aerobic exercises.  Tai Chi has been proven to increase quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia.  Simply walking, swimming, or biking are also good alternatives. 

Aquatic exercise in warm water is a great way to get a low-impact workout that promotes circulation and strength without stressing your joints.  Strengthening exercises can be low impact and with low weight until endurance has been improved.  Practiced regularly, exercises will strengthen the muscles and restore flexibility to the soft tissues.

There are very few absolute contraindications to exercise, including recent heart attack, heart failure, and uncontrolled hypertension.

The best way to start an exercise program if you have a cardiac or pulmonary diagnosis is to do a monitored cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program.  In these programs, you will be monitored with EKG, vital signs, and oxygenation as you exercise on stationary bikes, treadmills, or arm ergometers.

The truth is that exercise can offer significant symptom relief from the pain of fibromyalgia, and the boost in mood can help improve coping with this disorder.

By Dr. Bren Boston


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