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Research has confirmed that exercise can be beneficial to those suffering from Fibromyalgia. Increasing your overall level of fitness helps you to sleep better and cope with pain and stress more effectively. 

In general, suitable exercise is a combination of endurance exercise with stretching and strengthening exercises. You may not feel able to do all of these everyday - let the way you're feeling on each particular day be your guide. However you should build up to at least three hours of exercise each week, and if you have any other major illnesses or disabilities check with your doctor as to how much you can feasibly and safely undertake.


You may find in the short term that your symptoms feel worse. This is because like anyone, if you are not used to exercise, your body will let you know through additional aches. Persevere though - it will get better.


How can exercise help?

* Strengthen ligaments and tendons and enhance muscle tone
* Increase flexibility
* Increase blood flow to muscle tissue
* Increase endorphins released by the hypothalamus, natural pain-relievers

* Decrease risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart attack and stroke
* Promote weight loss, and reduce stress on your joints.

* Improve the quality of sleep

* Increase energy

* Reduce anxiety levels and depression

Types of Exercise for Fibromyalgia


     - Yoga/Pilates - this will increase flexibility, stimulate organs and glands, increase blood flow and decrease pain. Take care to keep movements easy...some postures may be too difficult so talk to your instructor about modifications.

     - Walking - Start with 5 minutes per day and very gradually work up to 20 mins per day. If you feel uncomfortable at any time decrease your walking time per day

     - Biking - either indoor or outdoor. Keep track of your mileage or try to work up to 20 mins per day.

     - Tai Chi - This 'moving meditation' helps you get back in touch with your body and stay active without impact or jarring movements.

     - Swimming - This is a great way to condition your heart and body while getting full and gentle support from the water. No impact means your joints are protected

     - Strengthening Exercises - These will help to build strong muscles and tendons needed to support your joints


Exercise to Avoid


There are certain exercises which will simply aggravate your FMS. These include but are not limited to Dancing, Basketball, Netball or any type of sport which involves jumping up and down. Contact sports are also a no-go area.




Sample Exercises to get you started

Consult your doctor or Chartered Physiotherapist if you are worried about these exercises.  These exercises can be used in a warm-up or cool-down situation.  If you feel dizzy or have sudden or sharp pain, consult your doctor or Physiotherapist before continuing the programme.

Standing or in a relaxed seated posture try the following. Repeat each exercise up to 5 times initially building up your tolerance through each one.


         * Head and Neck
1. Chin Tuck - Pull your chin in as if to make a double chin while keeping your head straight - hold for 3 seconds. Relax. 

2. Head Turns - Turn your head to look over your left shoulder - hold for 3 seconds. Return to centre - Repeat for right.
3. Tilts - Tilt head to bring left ear towards left shoulder. Hold for 3 seconds. Return to centre - Repeat for right

          * Shoulders/Upper Body

4.Shoulder Shrugs - Raise one shoulder, lower it, then raise the other shoulder. Raise both shoulders up towards the ears, hold for 3 seconds. Relax. Concentrate on relaxing shoulders as they come down.
5. Shoulder circles - Circle both shoulder girdles up, forward then down and back together. Then reverse the motion.
6. Forward arm reach - Raise both arms forward and upward as high as possible. Return to starting position.
7. Side lifts - Lift both arms up and out to the side and bring upwards to touch back of hands together over head. Return to start.
8. Elbows - Standing straight reach up and place your hands on the back of your head, elbows pointing in opposite directions. Take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, bring your elbows together. Slowly move your elbows apart as you breathe in.
9. Forearm turns - Bend your elbows and hold them into your sides - your forearms should be parallel to the floor. Slowly turn the forearms so that the palms face upwards and turn back again.
10. Forearm lifts - Sitting with forearms resting on thighs or a table. Lift up hands keeping fingers straight and forearms flat, hold for 3 seconds and relax.
11. Hand stretch - Make a fist with fingers and thumbs, then stretch fingers out.
12. Thumb Stretch - With hands open and fingers relaxed, reach thumbs across palm to touch base of little finger, hold for 3 seconds, relax.
13. Side bends - Stand with weight evenly on both feet, leaning body towards the left and reach fingers towards the floor. Hold for 3 seconds, return to centre. Repeat for right side.
14. Upper Body Moves - Standing as above - Raise arms to shoulder height and bend elbows so that one forearm folds over the other. Turn gently so that upper body moves to the left. Hold for 3 seconds and return to the centre. Repeat for the right.

          * Lower Body

15. Thigh lift - Stand sideways to a chair and lightly hold the back. Bend left knee and lift thigh upwards towards the ceiling hold for 3 seconds, relax. Repeat for right.
16. Side Leg Lift - Stand as above - on one straight leg. Lift other leg out to the side without tilting body. Hold for 3 seconds, return to start. Turn and repeat for other leg.
17. Back Kick - Stand straight on one leg and lift the other leg behind you keeping the knees straight. Do not lean forward. Hold for 3 seconds, relax and repeat for other leg.
18. Bow - Stand with legs slightly apart, hands resting lightly on the back of a chair keeping feet flat on floor, slowly bend your knees to lower your body a few inches. Hold for a count of 3 to 6 and slowly return to upright position.
19. Stretch - Stand, as above. Rise up and stand on your toes. Hold for a count of 3 and return to the flat position. Now stand on heels, raising your toes and front off the ground.
20. Calf Stretch - Standing as above Bend the knee of the left leg so it almost touches the chair. Put the right leg behind you, keeping both feet flat on the floor. Lean forward, keeping your back knee straight. Hold for a count of 5 - 10. Relax and change legs.
21. Chest Stretch - Stand about 2 to 3 feet away from a wall and place your hands flat on the wall at shoulder height. Lean forward, leading with your hips. Keep your feet flat on the floor and knees straight - hold for count of 5 - 10. Relax.
22. Leg Tighten - Sit on the edge of a chair with one of your legs stretched out in front of you, heel resting, on the floor. Tighten the muscle at the front of your knee and pull your toes back towards your face. Hold for a count of 5 - 10. Relax - change legs. 


Tips for Safe Exercise

Warm up and slowly increase intensity  before doing any vigorous endurance building type of exercise to help prevent injuries. Do your chosen activity at a moderate rate so that your breathing and heart rate are mildly increased, and you feel warmer. If your pain increases - STOP immediately. Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes and shed layers to adapt to increases in temperature.   Shoes should be non-slip, shock-absorbent and provide good support  Cool down after exercising - to cool down, continue your chosen activity at a slower, more relaxed pace for a few minutes. 

The Talk Test:  When you are exercising, you should be able to talk easily and not be out of breath.


Parts of this information have been provided with the kind help of the Physiotherapists in Rheumatology, Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast  © MPH

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