Warming Up the Muscles and Joints

Exercise is essential for fibromyalgia patients. That fact is important enough to need repeating. Exercise is essential for fibromyalgia patients. Warming up the muscles and joints is an excellent start to any exercise plan. If you suffer from fibromyalgia, a simple warm up plan – a few exercises to warm up your joints and prepare them for exercise – will make a huge difference in the way you feel and your overall results.

If you suffer from fibromyalgia you are intimately familiar with the widespread pain that is a symptom of this chronic disease. You may have fatigue, depression, anxiety, and a number of other symptoms that are often present with the condition that affects up to five million Americans,[1] especially women.

Exercise might be the last thing on your mind when it comes to fibromyalgia treatment. In fact, if your health care provider has suggested exercise you may have been shocked. Why add pressure or strain to joints that are already in intense pain?

Research shows that while common sense may tell you not to exercise, you will find relief from your pain and other symptoms if you can break through the psychological barriers and just do it. It is difficult for fibromyalgia patients, research shows, to begin any exercise program because they tend to become used to a sedentary lifestyle.[2] Certain forms of exercise are beneficial to fibromyalgia patients just like you; they will help you build muscle strength and tone as they decrease pain in the joints. They will help increase your flexibility as they decrease stiffness.

Stretching

Before you begin exercising it is recommended that you stretch your joints with gentle movements. Stretching is both a great way to ease into an exercise routine in general and the best way to begin every exercise routine.

What does this mean? Stretching and warming up the muscle joints is a moderate way to help you break through the psychological barriers that are stopping you from exercising. You can begin stretching – not exercising- right now. Gentle stretches will immediately help your symptoms as they prepare you for a more intense exercise program down the road

Next, once you have recognized that you can exercise, even though you have a chronic and painful disease, you can utilize the same stretches you already do every day to warm up your joints and prepare them for exercise every day. Gentle stretching offers your body a great warm up. Professional athletes warm up before every exercise session and you should too.

The Benefits of Stretching Every Day

Whether you are using gentle stretches as a daily exercise or as a warm up to a more intense exercise routine, you will receive numerous benefits. Stretching is a type of exercise that all fibromyalgia patients – even you – can do every day. Let’s look at some of the fabulous benefits:[3]

  • Increased flexibility from elongated muscles
  • Reduced stiffness
  • Reduced pain
  • Increased range of motion in joints
  • Increased relaxation
  • Improved sleeping patterns

The benefits do not stop here. For example, with increased range of motion, consider all of the things you will be able to accomplish and enjoy. With more flexibility and range of motion simple activities such as driving and shopping will be easier. For some patients, stretching and warming up the joints on a daily basis makes these simple activities possible for the first time in many years.

Stretching is an optimal time to relax. Numerous patients use this time to meditate or enjoy time to themselves. It will help reduce anxiety and may even help improve sleep disorders.

How to Stretch

How should you stretch? Many of you will remember stretching in middle school gym classes. Touching your toes and deep knee bends are not the only ways to stretch your body. In fact, these may not be the best ways for fibromyalgia patients to warm up their joints.

The key to successful stretching is to avoid placing undo pressure on your muscles and joints. From the different types of stretching, you will want to choose the type that works best with your personal fibromyalgia symptoms.

Relaxed Stretches. Relaxed stretches require your body to be in a comfortable position. If you have warmed up for aerobics or other exercise classes you may be familiar with relaxed stretches. For these stretches you can sit, lie down, or even stand depending on what is most comfortable for you. Once you find a comfortable position, isolate one part of your body, such as your leg, and hold it in one position for up to sixty seconds. If you experience muscle spasms, this is a good way to work through them.

Isometric Stretches. Isometric stretches are also a very relaxed form of stretches and a great place to start for someone just beginning to exercise. To perform these stretches you clench an isolated muscle for up to sixty seconds and then release. During the stretch you do not move. For example, if you are working on muscles in the leg, such as the thigh muscle, you would clench the thigh muscle for up to sixty seconds but not move the leg during the stretch. These stretches are suggested for general warm ups and for building muscle strength.

Active Stretches. This type of stretch is exactly what it says –active. As a fibro patient you may not wish to start with this type of stretch but it can eventually become a good warm up for joints. To complete this stretch, isolate a stretch movement such as ‘touching your toes’ and hold it for sixty seconds. During the stretch you can only use muscle strength to hold the stretch. This can be difficult for types of stretches such as bringing a knee to your chest when you have fibromyalgia– you would not be able to use your arms to help hold your knee in place. Active stretches increase flexibility.

Dynamic Stretches. These stretches move your joint through a full range of motion. A dynamic stretch could involve ‘pretending’ to pitch a softball. These stretches should always be slow and fluid. Any sudden or severe movements, or jerky movements, could result in damage. As you might guess, these are perfect for increasing range of motion.

Keep Going

Stretching is an excellent place to begin, but at least one study shows you should keep going. In a study that followed women with fibromyalgia, 68 women were placed in either a strengthening group or a stretching group. At the end of 12 weeks, both groups showed improvements across the board. However, the strengthening group, who did use stretches to warm up, saw more of a positive change in their symptoms.[4] So, if you enjoy the gentle stretches you start with, keep going and begin an exercise program using the same gentle stretches as a warm up.

Warming up the muscle joints with simple stretching exercises is an exceptional idea for anyone suffering from fibromyalgia. If you are worried about your pain, use gentle stretches to break through that mental barrier that is telling you that exercise and fibromyalgia do not go together. You can also use stretching as a warm up to other exercise sessions. Whatever your reasons for choosing to stretch your muscles, the benefits are worth it!

References

[1]  Arthritis Related Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis_related_stats.htm

[2]  Buckelew, S. P. (2003). Self-Efficacy and Pain Behavior Among Subjects with Fibromyalgia. Pain , 377-84.

[3] Stretching Exercises. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Institutes of Health

[4]  Jones, K. B. (2002). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Muscle Strengthening verus Flexibility Training in Fibromyalgia. The Journal of Rheumatology , 1041-48.

This article was originally published on July 11, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/7/2015