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Is Too Much Exercise Being Prescribed for Those With Fibromyalgia?


Fibromyalgia is a condition that is thought to be caused partially by genetics, but researchers are still uncertain about how it really develops. Once a patient is diagnosed with the condition, doctors often recommend treatments like exercise, meditation and medication to handle the pain caused by fibromyalgia. While exercise has been shown to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia, there are cases when it is prescribed too much. Some exercise can help fibromyalgia patients, but it is possible to push too far and worsen symptoms.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

The main symptom of fibromyalgia is pain. Tender spots often develop around the neck and shoulders. From there, the pain often spreads outward. Muscles and soft tissues around the joints feel pain. While the pain feels like it is around the joints, the joints are actually unaffected. In studies, people with fibromyalgia do not have any signs of inflammation around their joints.

In addition to muscle pain, fibromyalgia sufferers may feel stiffness, aching pain, burning and radiating pain. Often, people experience pain all the time and feel exhausted from the pain. Changes in weather, stress or physical activity can worsen the pain. Due to the aches and pain that the patient experiences, they may have problems sleeping and extreme fatigue. Almost all of fibromyalgia patients report experiencing sleep disturbances and exhaustion.

An estimated one-third of fibromyalgia experience depression. They may have problems concentrating or mood disturbances. Scientists are still uncertain if depression and concentration problems are caused by the condition or are a part of the condition. Other than these symptoms, patients may experience digestive problems, increased urination, dizziness, painful menstrual periods, tingling in the hands or feet, tension, constipation, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea.

Physical Activity and Fibromyalgia

When someone is in continuous pain, the last thing that they want to do is become physically active. Despite this dislike of physical activity, fibromyalgia sufferers must engage in aerobic exercise. In research studies, aerobic exercise has been shown to boost well-being, reduce pain and improve physical functions.

Will Exercise Cause Fibromyalgia to Flare Up?

It is normal to fear that exercise will make the pain worse. If patients start an intense fitness program right away, it is quite possible that exercise will worsen their pain. The main goal in an exercise program is to start slowly and gradually build up to longer fitness programs. Initially, patients may want to begin by walking 10 minutes a day. Over time, they can increase this time to 30 to 60 minutes for several days a week. It is important to pace the exercise programs carefully. Otherwise, the patient can end up making their bad days worse.

What Types of Exercise Are Best for Fibromyalgia?

Ideally, patients should begin by focusing on low-impact aerobic exercises. Some of the best exercises include swimming, water aerobics, walking and biking. Water-based exercises are some of the best for fibromyalgia patients because the water reduces joint stress and helps to support the body.

Patients who are out of shape can start by consulting with a physical therapist. Over several sessions, the physical therapist will use exercise and massage to help reduce pain. With practice, the therapist can help patients to increase their aerobic exercise to three times a week for at least 30 minutes.

Other than aerobic exercise, strength training may be used to help with fibromyalgia. Currently, there is limited research on the effectiveness of strength training for fibromyalgia. Despite the lack of research, strength training and resistance machines have been shown to reduce pain and increase muscle strength in healthy patients. Due to this, there is an excellent chance that strength training can help fibromyalgia sufferers.

If aerobic exercise and strength training seem like too much to start with, patients can always try yoga or tai chi. Both exercises use deep breathing, meditation and slow movements. The slowed movements may make it easier to exercise, and meditation has been show to reduce the stress associated with fibromyalgia.

Goals for a Fibromyalgia Exercise Program

The first step in creating an exercise program is to realize that it can help and to commit to the program. Exercise helps to boost strength, increase muscle mass and reduce stress. In addition, it can help to reduce weight, which can help to limit the pain caused by fibromyalgia. At the beginning of the program, patients must remember to start slowly and gradually begin their activity level. Otherwise, the patient will end up experiencing more pain instead of less. Over time, it will become easier to exercise.

In a 2010 study in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, daily exercise was shown to boost daily functioning and reduce pain. To begin the process, individuals should make a goal of doing some type of exercise every day. Even if the exercise is just walking up stairs or gardening, it will help to reduce pain.

If the individual experiences pain, they can always modify their workout. Ideally, the workout should occur at the time of day that the person feels their best. They should warm up beforehand by stretching for at least ten minutes. Throughout the workout, patients should listen to their body and be unafraid to take breaks. After the workout is complete, a hot shower or bath can work out any muscle tension that has developed. Even with consistent workouts, it can take up to six months for the exercises to reduce pain. Patients should be patient, consistent and committed to their goals as they wait for their symptoms to change.