Gentle Exercise: What You Can Do to Ease the Pain of Fibromyalgia

When you suffer from fibromyalgia even the thought of  doing gentle exercise might seem frightening. As a patient with fibromyalgia you experience agonizing muscles and joint pain, so the last thing you may want to do is exercise. But, what if gentle exercise, specifically geared toward your disease, could actually ease your daily pain and help you live a healthy lifestyle?

If you are like many fibromyalgia patients, you watch other people enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle while you sit on the sidelines. It is not only your disease that keeps you stationary, it is the fear of making your pain worse by moving parts of your body that already hurt. However, you no longer have to enjoy life from the sidelines because low-impact exercises such as swimming, walking, stretching, and more will improve your pain level while increasing your overall activity level.

Why Should You Exercise?

Exercise is about more than controlling weight. Fortunately, with most exercise programs, weight control is a nice benefit. As a fibromyalgia patient you may experience weight issues due to the fact that you have previously shied away from all exercise, and it’s getting worse because now you move even less.

It is important for you to add exercise to your daily lifestyle for several reasons, including weight control. As you exercise you will begin to build body strength and tone your muscles, and you will also add flexibility to your body.[1]

While in the past, health professionals have encouraged fibromyalgia patients to avoid exercise for fear it will worsen their symptoms, new research shows just the opposite. You should involve yourself in some form of exercise everyday to help keep the pain at bay and to improve your overall well-being.[2] In fact, simple exercises that increase your range of motion and strength in addition to your aerobic capacity can now be considered a necessary part of your overall treatment plan.[3]

Exercise and Stress

It is well known that exercise is an excellent stress reliever. If stress, anxiety, depression, and similar symptoms are part of your fibromyalgia experience then you will find that exercise gives you benefits in these areas.

Your body strives at all times to maintain positive ‘neuro-chemical’ equilibrium. When this state of balance is reached you will feel better emotionally. You may have heard of the term ‘runner’s high’. This is the feeling of well being that many athletes feel after exercise that has created a boost in their endorphins. You can get this same feeling, and help reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety, when you raise your natural endorphin level via gentle exercises.

Serotonin is another chemical that is naturally produced in your body that can play a part in the stress –fibromyalgia link. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. This type of chemical – a small amount of which is located in the brain – has been discovered to affect the moods of patients with fibromyalgia.

An increase in serotonin in the brain can have a stress reducing effect on fibromyalgia patients. Interestingly, the levels of serotonin in your brain can increase and decrease with exercise.

Make a Plan to Exercise

If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you will need to ease into an exercise regimen. You can begin by creating an exercise plan that involves gentle exercises that stretch your muscles and increase your range of motion.

Health care experts estimate that a patient with fibromyalgia has approximately fifty percent of the range of motion that a normal, healthy person will have.[4] This is also true for the aerobic levels of fibromyalgia patients. This information will help you create your exercise plan.

When creating your exercise plan you will want to plan for some type of exercise every day. There are three different categories of exercises you will be focusing on:

  • Stretching, (range of motion) exercises: These are exercises that allow you to focus on moving your joints through their full range of motion. You will start with small movements that stretch a joint as far as possible without pain and build up over time to increase your range of motion.
  • Aerobic exercises: These exercises aid in increasing your aerobic capacity. Walking, swimming, and biking fall into this category and will also build muscle tone and strength as they aid in weight loss. These exercises can be done for up to thirty minutes per day.[5]
  • Muscle strengthening exercises: These exercises are critical to help you increase joint support. Muscle strengthening exercises utilize resistance and you will start with very low resistance weights and work up to higher weights as you build support for your joints. Fibromyalgia patients may reduce pain by up to one-half with strength training.[6

You can also include other exercises in your overall exercise plan. The key to creating a great plan, and not becoming bored, is to switch things up and make your exercise interesting. Let’s look at some exciting exercise ideas you can add to your regimen to keep it from becoming tedious:

  • Yoga: Yoga is an excellent stress reliever, but it is also a great way to increase your range of motion and build strength. It is an excellent choice for fibromyalgia patients and can be practiced every day.
  • Tai Chi: These exercises stretch your muscles and joints. Because you suffer from fibromyalgia, Tai Chi will help build your flexibility and your strength.
  • Pilates: This may be something you would have never considered trying as a fibromyalgia patient. But, if you follow the advice of a qualified Pilate’s instructor you can focus on building your posture with simple Pilate’s exercises. Pilates has exercises that will help you focus on the spine and poor posture.
  • Water therapy: Water therapy offers patients excellent resistance while giving support to your weight during exercise. The water is a great place for fibro patients to start exercising as it provides gentle exercise with the added benefit of gravitational support.

As you develop your plan for gentle exercise with fibromyalgia the key is consistency. Start slowly. You do not have to do hour long work-outs every day. The main thing is to create an exercise plan that includes stretching, strengthening, and conditioning exercises that you can start today. Add variety to your plan and keep it simple and easy. You will discover numerous benefits – from stress relief and weight control to improved quality of life and pain relief – with a simple plan of gentle exercises for fibromyalgia.


[1]  McCain, G. (2004). Role of Physical Fitness Training in the Fibrositis/Fibromyalgia Syndrome. American Journal of Medicine , 73.

[2] Ibid

[3]  Martin, L. N. (2006). An Exercise Program in the Treatment of Fibromyalgia. Journal of Reumatology , 1050-3.

[4]  Busch, A. B. (2007). Exercise for Treating Fibromyalgia Syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews .

[5]  Ibid

[6]  Ibid

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