Easy Exercise for Fibromyalgia


Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a chronic disorder affecting the musculoskeletal system causing radiating pain and fatigue. FMS affects 1 in every 50 Americans, mostly women ages 20 to 50 years of age. The symptoms include chronic pain, fatigue, skin sensitivity, sleep disturbances, “foggy” sensation, migraine headache, impaired memory and coordination. Trigger points of sensitivity in the neck, back, hip, shoulders, knees and arms are used in diagnosing the condition. According to the American College of Rheumatology, there are two criteria for diagnosing FMS: history of widespread pain lasting more than three months and sensitivity in 11 of the 18 trigger points.


A traumatic event such as a car accident, a repetitive injury, and certain concomitant diseases like arthritis, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression can coexist. However, there is no known significant correlation between specific triggers and fibromyalgia. Research is on the rise as the etiology of the condition is elusive.

Exercise as Treatment

For fibromyalgia patients exercise is vital in maintaining overall health, yet because of the debilitating symptoms and constant pain, motivation to move is low. Physical activity is important in keeping the muscles strong and flexible, enhancing energy, boosting mood, managing weight and caloric balance, and empowering participants to feel more like themselves again. Exercise modalities such as Pilates yoga and tai chi are safe options with certain modifications.

Initially, most exercise must be modified and performed to tolerance with low intensity and no to low impact. Cardiovascular exercise is especially important for FMS patients to help increase stamina. Using the elliptical trainer, recumbent bike, stair climber or treadmill are good options. Over time with conditioning, exercise levels can progress to levels of non-fibromyalgia patients. The most important aspect of progression is not to overload the body too soon with exhaustive exercise, which could have a negative impact.

Benefits and Recommendations

For people with FMS getting to the gym is the biggest challenge. General benefits of exercise for those with fibromyalgia include enhanced functional ability, cardiovascular conditioning and stress management. Exercise focus should be on light weight, low-impact resistance training, aerobic conditioning and flexibility. Small bouts of low intensity exercise (40 percent target heart rate to 70 percent target heart rate) are best in order to avoid flareups. Progression should focus on duration rather than intensity.

FMS patients should perform moderate exercise for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine for the general population. The difference is the level of intensity. A program that consists of two to three days per week of resistance training, cardiovascular exercise performed four to five days per week and flexibility training two times per week.

Good exercises include squats, lunges, shoulder raises, dumbbell rowing, Pilates and yoga.

Movements should be functional and mimic activities of daily living such as lifting, twisting, bending and climbing to increase strength and stamina. When using resistance, be conservative to begin with. Start with five to eight pounds if using free weights and light tubing.


In a 2008 study conducted by the Arthritis Foundation, 207 women were recruited from physicians’ offices and randomly placed in one of four groups. One group participated in a program of cardiovascular and flexibility; group twp om an exercise program consisting of strength, cardiovascular and flexibility components; group three attended education classes sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation called the Fibromyalgia Self-Help Course; and group four participated in the educational component as well as the strength, cardiovascular and flexibility training. Of the 135 women that completed the 16-week program, those in group four demonstrated the most significant improvements. This research indicates that exercise and education/lifestyle and disease management are the most successful in affecting quality of life gains for those with FMS.

Before You Begin

Confer with your physician before beginning an exercise program. Seek out the guidance of an exercise specialist who is familiar with FMS. Know the side effects of medications and the impact they have on the exercise response and weight gain/loss.

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