Fibromyalgia & Exercise

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic disorder which is characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain. Other symptoms often include fatigue, stiffness, sleep disturbances, cognitive dysfunction, headaches, depressive episodes, and poor exercise tolerance. Fibromyalgia has a greater prevalence in women, which increases with age. Though fibromyalgia is chronic, it is not progressive and each individual may present with differing symptoms with respect to the nature, location and quantity of their pain. 

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for FM; however, the best approach to treatment involves the combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological options that can help to manage the symptoms, one of which is exercise!  

Benefits of Exercise for FM:

• Decreased general pain 

• Improved amount of “deep sleep” and decreased fatigue 

• Improved muscular strength and endurance 

• Decreased risk of developing secondary conditions such as cardiovascular disease 

• Activates the body’s own endogenous opioid system (improving mental state), to help decrease levels of depression and anxiety, and improve stress levels

• Increased self-esteem and body awareness 

• More frequent and meaningful social interactions 

• Improved quality of life through maximising function 

What type of exercise can I do? 


De-conditioned FM sufferers should take advantage of the hydrostatic properties of water when commencing an exercise program. Advantages of hydrotherapy include: 

  • Reduced loads on joints
  • Temperature-controlled pools can reduce aggravation of FM symptoms 
  • The pool offers significant reduction in eccentric loading patterns placed upon the body
  • Resistance can be manipulated by speed of movements
  • Greater enjoyment from revitalising and relaxing characteristics of the water 

Aerobic Training

Aerobic training is important for preventing secondary conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Types of low impact exercise could include stationary cycling, walking in temperature-controlled environments such as a gymnasium, and interval training. 

Strength Training

Strength training can be implemented without any exacerbation of FM symptoms. Improvements in strength and endurance levels can assist in performing aerobic exercise, and aid with completing activities of daily living. It is also recommended to perform split programs, such as performing upper body activities one day, followed by a day of rest before doing lower body strength. 

Flexibility Training

Flexibility training can help with decreasing stiffness, and it should be performed as a part of the warm up and cool down. However, avoid taking stretches to a point of pain, as additional micro-trauma could be experienced. Stretch only to the point where a slight degree of resistance can be felt and then hold. This should be repeated for around 3-5 repetitions of 20-60 second holds each. Each major muscle group should be targeted. 

Overall, exercising on a regular basis can have a positive effect on the functional capacity and quality of life for individuals living with FM. For more information, please contact Move Exercise Physiology to book in an appointment with one of our friendly Accredited Exercise Physiologists to discuss an appropriate tailored program that can help manage symptoms associated with Fibromyalgia. 

By Shannon Bubner