chronic pain

Exercise Tips for People with Fibromyalgia

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We all know how important exercise is for health. However, for those suffering with the disabling pain of fibromyalgia, exercise can actually set you back.

"Because of the energy crisis that occurs in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia, people are unable to condition beyond a certain point," says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., world renowned expert in chronic pain and fibromyalgia, and author of the bestselling From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery Penguin). "If they exercise beyond that point, they can experience post-exertional fatigue, which can make them bed-bound for a day or two. This, along with the pain, often makes people afraid to exercise at all, which leads to severe de-conditioning. In this illness," explains Dr. Teitelbaum, "the de-conditioning can be devastating--and in fact, it can be more devastating than the exercise." 

According to Dr. Teitelbaum, it's best to begin with a walking program to condition as much as possible. For some, this may be 50 steps a day, and for others this may be 2 miles. "When you feel your energy building, continue to increase your walking by about 50 steps every day or two, as it feels comfortable." For many fibromyalgia patients, doable exercises also include walking, yoga, and Tai Chi, to name a few.  

Here are 10 tips to get you started safely, and to make the exercise program more effective:

1. Begin with Light Exercise
Try walking or even warm water walking (in a heated pool) if regular walking is too difficult.

2. Feel "Good Tired"
Walk to the degree that you feel "good tired" after, and better the next day. If you feel worse the next day, stop for a few days and then cut back your routine when you begin again.

3. Work Out Comfortably
Walk only as much as you know you comfortably can (or start with 5 minutes). Then increase by 1 minute every other day, as comfortable. When you get to a point that leaves you feeling worse the next day, cut back a bit to a comfortable level, and continue that amount of walking each day.

4. Expect Considerable Improvement by 10 Weeks
After 10 weeks, your energy production will usually improve considerably, and you'll be able to continue to increase your walking by 1 minute every other day.

5. When Able to Exercise 1 Hour a Day, Increase Intensity
When you get to 1 hour a day (or 5,000-10,000 steps throughout the day if using a pedometer), you can increase the intensity of the exercise.  Again, listen to your body, and only do what feels good to you.  You'll know the difference between how "good pain" feels versus "bad pain," or crashing.

6. Consider Using a Pedometer
It's more fun to be able to see your endurance go up (set it for the total steps you walk a day).

7. Wear Woolen Long Underwear When It's Cold
A cold breeze can throw muscles into spasm, and so can sweating during the walk if you're overdressed. Woolen long johns will soak up any sweat and wick it away from your skin. Meanwhile, don't forget a scarf and hat. Unless it is cold, and the cold flares your pain, I recommend that you get your exercise by walking outside, so you can get sunshine -- your key source of vitamin D.

8. Enjoy Your Exercise!
Otherwise you won't stay with it. No pain, no gain. You've heard that slogan, of course. It reflects the belief that unless exercise hurts, it's not doing its job. Pain is your body's way of saying, "Don't do that." Exercise should be virtually pain-free.

9. Find an Exercise You Enjoy
Find an activity you love to do, look forward to, and that fits into your routine. This way you'll be more likely to stick with it. Whether you begin with a simple walk to the mailbox, or as you improve you find that you're taking a dance class, going for a walk in the park, doing yoga, or even shopping, doing something you love makes it more likely that you'll stick with it.

10. Have a Regular Scheduled Routine and Workout with a Friend
The obligation of meeting somebody results in your being more likely to show up.