Exercising With Fibromyalgia: How to Recover Faster, Better

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

While the discomfort and fatigue of your fibromyalgia may make you reluctant to work out, research shows that regular, moderate exercise lessens pain; improves function; and creates a better overall sense of wellbeing. As we know, however, fibromyalgia can create unique fitness challenges. Here are 10 things that you can do to help with your post-workout recovery.

Smiling woman exercising with a fitness trainer.

Keep a good attitude

Exercise can be very difficult with fibromyalgia: it can hurt, lead to injuries, or temporarily make us feel older than our actual age. But remember, exercise is difficult for many people. We know this because only about 1 in 5 of us is getting enough exercise according to the Centers for Disease Control. It’s important to stay focused on your long-term goals of more mobility, less pain, and greater strength whenever you weather a temporary setback as a result of your efforts.

Woman cooling down from a workout with a towel and water.

Take time to cool down

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should begin your exercise session with a warm up and end with a cool down. Just as the warm up prepares your body for work, the cool down brings it back to its normal state. Your cool down could involve 5 to 10 minutes of low-intensity cardiovascular activity (like walking or an easy swim) followed by stretching. This will decrease muscle soreness and aid your recovery.

String cheese on a wooden board.

Take in protein

Although more research is needed, one of the quickest ways to grow your muscles and gain more strength is to eat protein immediately after your workout. In one small study, participants were asked to exercise and then were given protein either 5 minutes after the workout or 2 hours later. Researchers found that greater muscle mass developed in those who consumed protein immediately after exercise. Consider packing a protein bar or cheese stick to the gym.

Man sleeping well in bed.

Sleep matters

Trouble sleeping is a hallmark of fibromyalgia. But sleep is critical to many aspects of physical, emotional and cognitive functioning. Getting more sleep can help you exercise better; better sleep can help you recover from exercise. If you are just starting an exercise program, you may want to talk to your doctor about medication that may help you sleep better until you adjust to your new routine.

Exercise journal.

Keep a journal

When I was in my 30s, I suffered with lower back pain. It was debilitating. I could not find any answers to help me feel better. When I expressed my frustration to a friend who was a college athletic trainer, he said, “Keep a journal and you will be the first one to crack the code.” He was so right. After recording my activity and pain levels each day, I soon discovered some of my triggers and was better able to manage my pain.

Senior woman exercising with a fitness trainer.

Talk to your trainer

If you are working with a trainer, do not expect him to be a mind reader. It will be important to keep him up to speed on how you are feeling not only during the workouts but the days that follow. Most certified trainers are familiar with the challenges of fibromyalgia and genuinely want to help. Getting in better shape will be a team effort.

Woman cheering on an exercise bike.

Set reasonable goals

It is crucial to pace yourself. The time it takes to recover from an exercise session will probably be longer for you than for those without fibromyalgia. This will most likely take some careful experimentation to figure out the number of days you will need rest following exercise to fully recover and continue to get stronger.

Person applying an ice pack to their knee.

Apply ice or heat

Ice has long been known to reduce inflammation, especially if it is applied immediately after exercise or injury. You may find that placing an ice pack on your most tender joints for 20 minutes at a time after exercising can help. If you are extremely stiff post-workout, you may find relief by applying a warm compress to increase blood flow to the area. You may need to experiment to find what helps you the most.

Different smoothie flavors.

Consume antioxidants

When we exercise, we produce molecules called free radicals that lead to oxidative stress, a process can make us age too quickly. Fortunately, the bright colors from fruits and vegetables come from chemicals called antioxidants that can fight these free radicals. Research shows that consuming foods such as blueberries after your workout can reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. Try blending one of these smoothies and bring it to the gym for your post workout treat.

Man smiling after exercise.

Listen to your body

We are each unique in our abilities to tolerate and then recover from exercise. Remember that time matters. Our age matters, the season matters, the time of the month matters, and the time of day matters. When we’re trying to reach our fitness goals, it’s important we stay in our own lane to find success. No one else has our body. Find patience if you can. Fitness is a lifelong journey.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.