Fibromyalgia Exercise Program

As Dr. Steve Windley described in Focus on Fibromyalgia, pain in numerous areas of the body is common and quite intrusive on daily function. As we will discover in this article, there are exercise options and priorities for individuals with fibromyalgia. (For more common questions and expert answers on Fibromyalgia, visit Along with the tips in Windley’s article, use the following ideas to address the muscular function needed to improve daily performance.

First, let’s discuss the handicap fibromyalgia impresses on normal function of the body. When an individual feels the pain and stiffness associated with fibromyalgia, the natural reaction is to reduce movements and activities that correspond with the pain. However, if let go long enough, this decrease in activity triggers the symptoms (pain) to occur at a lower activity level. This downward spiral of decreased activity and increased pain results in the perpetuation of the symptoms.


The solution is multifaceted. First, the causes need to be addressed, including dietary habits. Also, appropriate levels of function need to be maintained without causing a large increase in symptoms. To be clear, eliminating pain with exercise or immediately following exercise is not the primary goal here. The objective of exercise is to start gaining physical tolerance to activity so that normal, daily things do not cause the pain. It's like a runner who gradually builds up their tolerance to increased mileage. Eventually, running 6 miles feels like running 2 miles did when they first started training. However, fibromyalgia tends to lower a person’s tolerance for movement and exercise, not improve it.

This brings us to the ideal exercise routine for an individual with fibromyalgia. The first goal is to maintain and gradually improve function of the whole body during daily movements, like walking, sitting, driving, reaching, etc. Achieving this goal requires setting smaller goals to build strength, endurance and flexibility. Since not every person with fibromyalgia has the same areas or degrees of strength loss, stiffness or loss of endurance, each patient’s program might be slightly different.

Since pain generally results from “overdoing it,” monitoring and recording physical activity in a journal or log can be quite helpful. This can alert you to your current limits in regard to activity. It will also serve as a record of your progress over time. In this same log, you can track changes to your dietary habits as suggested by Dr. Windley, and how these modifications are helping you.

The single most important exercise for fibromyalgia sufferers is usually posture. If posture is maintained through routine activities, other parts of the body work more efficiently. When other parts, like the arms, legs and neck, work more efficiently, they don’t experience as much strain. When strain is reduced, it is less likely that pain will arise. When less pain is present, then more activity can be performed. When more activity or exercise is performed, then the body builds tolerance to that activity during its rest time, making the next go-around easier. This is why proper rest is so important for individuals with fibromyalgia. If the body doesn’t recover from a certain activity, it doesn't build itself up, but rather, gets torn down. Hopefully, it is clear how the interlocked effects of activity, recovery, nutrition, and efficient movement and posture all work together in relation to fibromyalgia symptoms.

So, what kinds of exercise are best? Basically, all exercises that promote good posture and efficient movement are good. However, additional training by someone knowledgeable in this area of exercise might be needed. This could include a physical therapist, pilates instructor or personal trainer. The most important thing is that they understand fibromyalgia and the effects of exercise on the condition. Generally speaking, low impact activities like walking are highly beneficial, and swimming and pool aerobics are ideal since warm water tends to decrease the feeling of pain. Exercises that incorporate core strengthening and keep the level of resistance low but repetitions high are good. Pilates or yoga classes for beginners or with one-on-one instruction can be beneficial as well.

This set of fibromyalgia exercises can be done starting today and performed at least once a day for as long as you like. They incorporate some basic core strengthening and flexibility while not forcing a high level of exertion. Don’t expect these exercises to have magical powers for improving your pain or function in the first day or two, but stick with them for a few weeks and you will start to see a difference.  Keep your journal or log to track your progress. These exercises don't require any equipment, just about 5-10 minutes of your time 1-2 times per day.


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