Many studies have shown that exercise is the most effective component in managing fibromyalgia, and patients must expect to take part in a long-term exercise program. Physical activity prevents muscle wasting, increases well-being, and, over time, reduces fatigue and pain. Many studies have also demonstrated that exercise can improve physical and emotional function, as well as reduce symptoms, including pain.
Programs often combine aerobic, strength-training, and flexibility exercises with self-management education. Some studies have shown improvements lasting for up to 9 months after the exercise program ends.
Graded Exercise. The basic approach used for fibromyalgia is called graded exercise. Graded exercise means you slowly increase the amount of your physical activity.
In general, graded exercise involves:
- A very gradual program of activity, beginning with mild exercise and building in intensity over time.
- Stretching exercises before working out. A daily stretching routine can help relax tense muscles and prevent soreness.
- Walking, swimming, and using equipment such as treadmills or stationary bikes. Swimming and water therapy are good because they don't require putting weight on the joints.
Patients who try difficult exercises too early actually experience an increase in pain, and are likely to become discouraged and quit.
Every patient must be prepared for relapses and setbacks, but they should not get discouraged. Patients who do not respond to one type of exercise might consider experimenting with another form.
Review Date: 12/27/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.