Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that causes chronic pain and mental distress. Certain forms of exercise may help relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.
In this article, we explain which types of exercise a person with fibromyalgia may find beneficial. We also list some complementary treatment options.
People with fibromyalgia can try experimenting with different exercise routines to find what works best for them.
The types of exercise that may be helpful include:
Aerobic exercise, such as running or walking, can help with many symptoms of fibromyalgia. A 2017 review analyzed previous studies of aerobic exercise to treat fibromyalgia. The authors concluded that aerobic exercise could improve health-related quality of life and physical function while reducing stiffness and pain.
However, they classified the quality of evidence as low to moderate, as many of the included studies only included a small number of participants.
People concerned that aerobic exercise might place strain on their muscles or joints can opt for low impact aerobics, such as swimming.
Exercise classes can boost motivation among people with fibromyalgia, helping them stick to an exercise regimen. A person new to exercise could consider starting with a lower intensity activity, such as yoga, tai chi, or aerobics.
Some gyms and recreation centers may offer exercise classes specifically for people with fibromyalgia, chronic pain, or reduced mobility.
Tai chi is an ancient martial art that originated in China and incorporates stretching and slow movements. As it encourages mind-body awareness, it may help with both the physical and psychological symptoms of fibromyalgia.
The 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 their revised fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQR) scores.
Among those individuals, there was an average 16.2 point reduction in symptoms, with an 8.1 point symptom reduction being clinically significant. Overall, the tai chi participants saw an average symptom improvement of 5.5 points.
Resistance and strength training
Resistance training strengthens muscles and can improve symptoms of fibromyalgia. A 2015 study of 130 women aged 22–64 years with fibromyalgia found that progressive resistance training was associated with greater overall health, pain relief, and muscle strength.
A wide range of strength training routines, from group strength classes to lifting weights at home, may help.
Yoga offers gentle stretching, mind-body awareness, and a slow and steady approach to physical fitness. A 2017 study found that yoga might reduce self-perceived disability and help with many fibromyalgia symptoms, including depression and fear or avoidance of movement.
The study included eight participants with fibromyalgia, all of whom were women.
Yoga can often be a very accessible exercise option. Some gyms and community centers offer yoga classes, and many yoga videos are also available online. Some practitioners design workouts specifically for those with chronic pain.
The video below shows how to perform a gentle workout to improve strength and energy levels.
People with fibromyalgia typically experience widespread chronic pain. Exercise may help prevent chronic pain by strengthening the muscles, preventing muscle wasting, and reducing muscle damage.
Exercise may also help with other fibromyalgia symptoms, including depression, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems. However, more research is necessary to confirm these benefits.
Some people with fibromyalgia may experience mental health conditions, such as depression. Research on depression has found that exercise can be effective in alleviating some symptoms. The authors of a 2016 study argued that previous research might have underestimated the effectiveness of exercise in relieving depression.
The CDC also says that adults should perform strength-training exercises that target all major muscle groups on at least 2 days of the week.
People with fibromyalgia should also aim to do the recommended amount of exercise. However, this condition can make exercise difficult, particularly for people experiencing depression or fatigue.
A person with fibromyalgia may wish to start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time they spend exercising once they have identified a type of exercise that they find helpful and enjoyable.
People with fibromyalgia may get the best results when they combine several treatments. It is essential to talk with a doctor about whether symptoms are improving or worsening and to make them aware if any new symptoms have developed.
Some treatment options that may offer relief include:
- Medication: Fibromyalgia drugs such as pregabalin (Lyrica) can help reduce nerve sensitivity. Some people also get relief from antidepressants, which can help with both mental health symptoms and physical pain. Doctors may also prescribe pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications.
- Therapy: Therapy can help people with fibromyalgia cope with chronic pain. A therapist can also suggest ways to reduce or manage stress.
- Stress management: For many people, stress and trauma are triggers for fibromyalgia. Stress management strategies, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, may help.
- Managing triggers: Some people with fibromyalgia find that specific factors, such as certain foods or seasonal changes, trigger their symptoms. Identifying these triggers and then avoiding or preparing for them can help reduce symptoms.
- Alternative and complementary remedies: Some people find relief from acupuncture, massage, special diets, and other alternative therapies. However, it is important to talk with a doctor before trying any alternative treatments. They may recommend only using complementary remedies alongside more traditional medicine.
Exercise may not cure fibromyalgia, but it can offer significant symptom relief. Some people with fibromyalgia avoid movement because of their pain. However, avoiding movement can lead to muscle damage, tension, weight gain, and other health problems.
A healthy amount of movement may prevent fibromyalgia symptoms from getting worse, and it can reduce the risk of complications related to a sedentary lifestyle.
No one type of exercise is suitable for everyone. The goal should be to find a challenging exercise that offers a good workout but is comfortable enough to do most days of the week.
People with fibromyalgia can try different forms of exercise until they find what works best for them. Those with movement limitations may find it helpful to talk with a doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.