5 Recommended Ways To Exercise Safely When You Have Fibromyalgia
Many of you have fibromyalgia, as do I. Some of you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia by itself, and for others, it comes alongside other types of chronic pain and autoimmune issues. And as many of you know, fibromyalgia is a tough disease to treat. For many of us living with fibromyalgia, finding ways to manage the pain is extremely difficult.
And for many more of us, our fibromyalgia symptoms keep us from doing things that we want to do. We all know that exercise is good for us, and many of us want to exercise. Some of us long for the days when we could exercise. But for many of us, the thought of exercise is too overwhelming, as we know it can cause discomfort, pain, and intense symptom flare-up.
I know that this used to happen to me. Before I got sick, before I became Autoimmune Strong, I used to be a long distance runner, and so after my diagnosis, I wasn't ready to give up my long runs. So I would go for a run, just like I used to. But instead of feeling great, the next day I would wake up in a flare. It took me a long time to realize that I was doing the wrong kind of exercise for my body, and I was hurting myself rather than helping myself.
You see, fibromyalgia is a chronic condition distinguished by complex and varied symptoms. People who live with fibromyalgia most often experience widespread pain all over their bodies, particularly felt deep within their muscles and joints. Fibromyalgia suffers often live with non-restorative sleep, brain fog, tenderness to the touch, chronic fatigue and debilitating exhaustion.
Given these varied but uncomfortable physical symptoms, exercise does not seem like the obvious choice of activity for someone living with fibromyalgia. In fact, many fibro warriors talk about not wanting to move their bodies at all. Many find it hard to leave their house, as any movement at all can cause pain.
But in fact, it’s the opposite. Many medical studies have shown drastic improvements in the physical symptoms of fibromyalgia when paired with exercise.
One medical study shows that “Short-term exercise programs for individuals with fibromyalgia have consistently improved physical function, especially physical fitness, and reduced tenderpoint pain. These effects can persist for periods of up to 2 years but may require participants to continue to exercise.”
And another states that “Regular physical activity and exercise has numerous physical, psychological, and functional benefits for individuals with fibromyalgia and should be included in treatment plans.”
This is a major finding- that basic physical activity can help reduce fibromyalgia pain and symptoms.
However, this prescription of exercise does not come without limitations. While exercise can make fibro warriors feel significantly better, there is a tipping point. Too much exercise can make them feel worse.
According to this medical study, it is important to find the RIGHT kind of exercise program for fibromyalgia. “Undoubtedly, successful exercise prescription requires finesse. To gain optimal benefits and ensure long-term adherence, care must be taken to avert exercise-related pain and fatigue and musculoskeletal injury… A gradual intensity progression for deconditioned individuals with fibromyalgia toward “moderate” intensity is recommended.”
As I developed Autoimmune Strong, I tested this over and over again, on myself and on others. And I found that not only was this true- that the right exercise program for people with fibromyalgia needed to have a number of different considerations in order to prevent nerve overload and symptom flare-up.
So, to get the perfect balance of great restorative exercise without injury or symptom flare-up, follow these 5 Recommended Ways To Exercise Safely When You Have Fibromyalgia:
1. Exercise every day, but for shorter time periods.
Frequent exercise with short durations are the best types for people with fibromyalgia. Daily movement can significantly reduce the pain, while short exercise periods allow your body to get strong without getting overtaxed.
2. Focus on exercises that strengthen your stabilization muscles.
Since exercise is hard on our bodies, we want to make sure we select the most effective moves to start with. Most people with chronic pain struggle with back, neck and hip pain. Often, this pain is misinterpreted. Most yoga teachers, physical therapists and personal trainers will try to stretch these areas out in order to eliminate the pain. However, that technique rarely works. Instead, try using strengthening moves in the core and glutes in order to reduce the pain and inflammation in the back, neck and hip.
3. A good exercise routine should include both stretching AND strengthening exercises.
No muscle works in isolation; instead, muscles all work in conjunction with each other. Some muscles are too weak, and some are too tight. A good exercise program should be stretching the tight muscles while simultaneously strengthening the weak muscles. Doing one without the other will not be effective.
4. Find an exercise program with an instructor that is knowledgeable about fibromyalgia.
Many fitness instructors, personal trainers and yoga teachers don’t know how to work with a fibromyalgia body. Before you commit to a program, make sure your instructor is someone who knows about the medical benefits and challenges your body will face, so they can guide you towards safe and effective exercises.
5. Be sure to breathe during your workouts.
Often, those of us living with pain hold our breath. You probably don’t even know you are doing it. We do it unconsciously to protect ourselves- our bodies often stiffen up when we feel pain and discomfort. However, breathing is extremely important- getting oxygen flowing can reduce pain and give us energy. AND- when we are relaxed and breathing deeply, our bodies experience lower stress, which reduces inflammation, which increases our ability to exercise without risk of pain or flare-up. It’s a win-win! So, to put this tip into practice, make sure you check in with yourself throughout the day, and remind yourself to breathe. You can even set an alarm in your phone to remind yourself to breathe! Over time, these check-ins will turn into habits, and you will remember to breathe deeply on your own without reminder.
By following these 5 tips, you are well on your way to exercising in a safe and effective way for your fibromyalgia!