The Impact of Exercise on Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, trouble sleeping, memory loss, and mood issues.

Currently, fibromyalgia has no known causes or cure, but symptoms are always treatable. Many experts believe the best treatment is a multifaceted approach that combines medication with lifestyle changes and alternative treatments.

There’s no lab test or biomarker for the disorder. As well, the severity of the disease and the associated symptoms can differ from person to person.

Fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity but doesn’t improve with rest. Therefore, a common concern for most people suffering from fibromyalgia is will exercise make my condition worse.

There is no standard treatment for fibromyalgia. However, there are many options available for managing symptoms and improving quality of life.

Exercise Offers Certain Benefits

Exercise is one of the most important treatments for fibromyalgia. Even if you have fibromyalgia, pain and fatigue shouldn’t stop or hinder you from exercising. The right kind of exercise can help you maintain muscle strength and tone, despite severe fatigue.

Exercise programs for fibromyalgia often focus on flexibility and strength. Endurance exercises may be helpful, but only for higher-functioning individuals. Pacing should be applied in exercise so that a period of activity is alternated with rest. For some people, the time of exertion might be only a minute, followed by up to several minutes of rest. At first, exercise may increase your pain. However, increasing your level of activity gradually can often decrease your symptoms.

The key is to build exercise habits that you apply over time. Dancing or playing sports, combined with regular stretching exercises, are good ways to maintain flexibility and strength. However, remember to balance all activities as overexertion may make your symptoms worse.

It is important to do the correct exercises. Your current daily activities may help loosen tight joints. However, it is important for those with fibromyalgia to follow a standardized stretching program to prevent injury.

Start Slowly

Generally, it’s best to start with very little exertion and work up to the level that’s appropriate for you. If you’re currently not active at all, you may want to start with a couple of yoga poses that you can do while sitting or lying down. Once you are confident in your body’s ability to handle this activity, add another stretch or a second session at a different time of day.

It is important to start gradually and not overwork your muscles as exercise can trigger an exacerbation of symptoms. Focus on avoiding post-exertional fatigue like extreme tiredness after activity. All physical activity should be considered exercise. Even if you don’t have a formal exercise program, you are exercising already and maybe overdoing it.

The ‘Pain Cycle’ of Fibromyalgia

Having fibromyalgia can be very frustrating and, to some extent, debilitating. Those affected often become very inactive because it hurts too much to move. This leads to tightness and weakness of the muscles and increased fatigue. Fibromyalgia sufferers often develop poor posture from trying to avoid certain painful movements. This often leads to the development of what is termed as the “pain cycle.”

It is important to note that this pain cycle can be broken. The best way to do this is to begin a gradual aerobic exercise program in the water. Exercise has been proven to release endorphins to the brain and help heal the body. Even though it may seem that exercise will cause a flare-up of pain and symptoms, exercising in the water is the easiest first step to reducing your pain and injury. You’ll also increase your fitness level. It’s truly a win-win.

Why Water Exercise?

Water exercise can help increase exercise intensity gradually for those with fibromyalgia and help with balance issues. Let’s look at a few of water’s properties and why they are beneficial for people suffering from fibromyalgia.

Buoyancy

Buoyancy counteracts gravity, thereby decreasing the weight placed on painful joints and the spine. When immersed to neck level, buoyancy supports 90 percent of the body’s weight, and in waist-depth water, buoyancy can support 50 percent of your body weight. One of the many advantages of exercising in water is that the diminished weight-bearing stress helps strengthen weak muscles and improve balance with greater confidence. Water provides a safe environment for balance exercises as water supports our bodies while performing exercises that may cause instability on dry surfaces.

Resistance

Water pushes on our bodies from all directions, which creates more challenging balance exercises. Water can provide up to 15 times more resistance than air alone. It provides very safe resistance, which means that the harder you push against the water, the more resistance you will experience. This drug resistance can help build muscle strength and endurance throughout your body.

Hydrostatic Pressure

The pressure of water increases with every inch that you are submerged. If you stand in 4 feet of water, you are subjected to a force that is significant enough to assist in the reduction of swelling. This pressure will also provide increased body awareness when exercising. The surrounding pressure acts as a pair of supporting hands that will help execute proper posture, core muscle engagement and coordinated movements.

In addition, stress reduction and relaxation are the most important aspects of controlling any type of chronic pain. Water’s hydrostatic pressure helps to promote pain and stress relief by providing sensory stimulation throughout the entire body.

Temperature

Everybody knows how great it feels to soak in a warm, soothing bath. For someone who suffers from chronic pain, warm water is the best place to exercise. Colder water tends to cause muscles to tense up.

The Effects of Heat and Cold Therapy

Some people with fibromyalgia experience temperature sensitivity and tend to overheat and difficulty cooling down. There are many cooling and heating products available. You can take a warm or cool bath or soak your feet. Epsom salts added to bathwater is a traditional remedy used by many.

Heat is great for relaxing tight muscles, especially for people who are frequently cold and may have a hard time warming up. Use a heating pad, hot water bottle, rice bag or heated socks or slippers.

The Use of Supplements

There is little solid evidence that supplements help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia as results vary greatly. Different supplements work for different people.

When considering supplements, think about which symptoms impact you the most, and then look for the ones that address those specific symptoms. For example:

  • If you need to boost your energy, you may need to take supplements high in Carnitine, CoQ10, creatine, D-ribose, magnesium malate, NADH, SAM-e, and vitamin B12
  • If you need to promote or enhance your immune function, supplements high in Carnitine, CoQ10, DHEA, lysine, Rhodiola, and theanine are recommended
  • If you need to address pain and tenderness, supplements high in lysine, magnesium malate, omega-3 (fish oil), turmeric and vitamin D is beneficial
  • To improve your sleep patterns, you may need melatonin or valerian

Most importantly, before you start a supplement regimen, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure the options you are exploring are safe for you.

While there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, there is hope for pain relief. Behavioral changes can also help alleviate your symptoms. Getting a good night’s sleep ― ideally eight to nine hours per night ― is the key, as inadequate sleep can worsen symptoms. Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising ― within your ability, of course ― can also help decrease fibromyalgia symptoms and flare-ups.

For a comprehensive exercise program for fibromyalgia, please check out 12 Yoga Poses to Wake Up Energized and Start Your Day Off Feeling Fresh.

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