Water Exercise Benefits Fibromyalgia

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

Every fibromyalgia expert will tell you that exercise is an essential component of any fibromyalgia treatment program. However, most fibromyalgia patients complain--with valid reason--that exercise is difficult and painful. So how can people with fibromyalgia get the exercise they need without causing themselves more pain? Water exercise is one good way.

Benefits of Exercising in Water

Water provides several benefits that make exercise easier, less painful and more effective.

  • Water's buoyancy decreases the effects of gravity, displacing 85 percent of your weight. As a result, it takes less effort to move because you don't have to support your whole weight.

  • The buoyancy of water also takes the weight off of your joints, allowing for more flexibility.

  • The hydrostatic pressure of water reduces joint swelling and inflammation, which makes exercising easier and less painful.

  • Water provides resistance, which helps you increase strength and improve balance.

  • The resistance factor also burns more calories. An exercise done in water can burn twice as many calories as the same exercise done on land.

  • Immersion in water promotes relaxation, reduces muscle fatigue and lessens pain perception.

Types of Water Exercise

There is probably a water version of just about any kind of exercise you can think of. Of course swimming is the first type of water-related exercise most people think about. But there is also stretching in water, water walking, water jogging, water aerobics--even water kickboxing. One of the fastest growing forms of water exercise is water yoga, which uses modified versions of many of the upright yoga positions.

Water exercise programs can be done on an individual basis or in a class. While individual programs are custom designed to meet your specific needs, classes are far less expensive and can be just as effective (unless you have a special need that cannot be addressed in a group setting). An added benefit to exercising with a group is the opportunity to interact with other people and make new friends.

What You Should Know Before Beginning a Water Exercise Program

  • As with any exercise program, check with your doctor before beginning any kind of water exercise. There are some patients for whom water exercise is not recommended.

  • Find a program with a qualified instructor. Your local Arthritis Foundation and YMCA are good places to start looking. You might also ask your doctor or physical therapist for a recommendation.

  • Ask about the temperature of the pool. Since most people with fibromyalgia are very sensitive to cold, the closer the pool's temperature is to body temperature, the more comfortable you will be. However, do not attempt to exercise in a hot tub without your doctor's permission. Just sitting in water that hot can raise your blood pressure. Exercising in hot water can be extremely dangerous.

  • Start slowly, exercising no more than 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a week. Gradually increase your time until you are working out 45 minutes to an hour.

  • Don't overdo. Exercising in the water can be deceptive. Because you don't feel like you're straining, it is easy to do too much without realizing it. Until you have a few sessions under your belt and know how you feel after working out, take it easy. Any time you feel tired, stop exercising and relax in the water or leave the pool.

  • Do not try to push through the pain. If you experience new or increased pain, stop.

  • If a particular exercise is causing you pain, talk with your instructor. There may be an alternative way of doing the exercise or you may just need to sit that one out.

  • Relax, have fun and enjoy your newfound freedom of movement in the water!

Research Supports Benefits of Water Exercise

A number of studies have confirmed that water exercise has both physical and emotional benefits for fibromyalgia patients. The results of two studies done in 2006, one in Brazil and one in Spain, showed that fibromyalgia patients experienced reduced pain, improved functionality and better emotional health. A 2001 study from Norway compared the effects of land-based and pool-based aerobic exercise on women with fibromyalgia. The study found that both forms of exercise resulted in physical improvement. However, the pool based group also reported improvements in pain, anxiety, depression, self-reported physical impairment and the number of days they felt good. All three studies reported long-term benefits from water exercise.


Essert, Mary. "Why Water Works." Aquatic Resources Network. Jan. 13, 2003.

O'Dell, Kathleen. "Water Workout Offers Benefits for Fibromyalgia and More." The Marion Star. 2004

Assis, Marcos Renato, et al. "A randomized controlled trial of deep water running: Clinical effectiveness of aquatic exercise to treat fibromyalgia." Arthritis and Rheumatism. 55.1 (Feb. 2006): 57-65.

Gusi, N., et al. "Exercise in waist-high warm water decreases pain and improves health-related quality of life and strength in the lower extremities in women with fibromyalgia." Arthritis and Rheumatism. 55.1 (Feb. 2006): 66-73.

Jentoft, Eva Saltskar, et al. "Effects of pool based and land-based aerobic exercise on women with fibromyalgia/chronic widespread muscle pain." Arthritis and Rheumatism. 45.1 (Feb. 2001) 42-47.

Last Updated: 8/31/07

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.