10 Tips for getting started with exercising if you have fibromyalgia or chronic pain

If you are uncertain about whether exercise is suitable for you please seek professional advice.

1. Understanding your pain is key to being able to exercise without massive flare ups. If you have fibromyalgia or chronic pain not only is there the pain to deal with but also the fatigue and the anxiety. All these things may be triggered by exercise but done appropriately exercise can help to reduce your symptoms. Most of the symptoms in a chronic pain condition have a neural pathway involvement. The localised pain is related to excess tension in the muscles that is being maintained by the nervous system – a bit like phantom limb pain. This means there is no actual tissue damage so exercising should do no harm even if it is causing pain. We recommend an assessment with a chronic pain specialist who can explain what is going on in your tissues and nervous system before entering in to any exercise programme. They can also advise what exercise and how much to do and support you as you get started.

2. Passive exercise If moving or exercising is too much then here are 2 ways to achieve passive exercise. Firstly if you can get access to a sauna and cold shower then the warming up and cooling down has the effect of driving blood through the tissues to the skin and back which is a similar effect to getting the muscles warm with exercise. Please be cautious if you have trouble regulating your temperature and also be aware that it can be quite more tiring than expected.

Get into the sauna with dry skin and sit until you feel the skin just start to sweat. At this point take a cold shower for as long as is tolerable then towel yourself dry. Repeat this process two more times. The time it takes to produce a sweat should reduce at each cycle. Make sure you drink plenty of water during and afterwards.

The second form of passive exercise is a general osteopathic treatment. A gentle rhythmical movement of all the major joints in the body. This allows passive stretching and releasing of the joints, ligaments and connecting muscles which helps them be less tight and in turn improves the circulation in the area and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Please contact us for more information.

3. Initially work within your pain free range. This may be very small amount of movement to start with but the body needs to be re-educated into being able to move without pain so chuck away the old adage ‘No Pain, No Gain’ and go instead with NOI group’s ‘Motion is Lotion’. Gentle circular movement of your limb joints whilst sitting is a good place to start. Move each of your limb joints in a circular motion in a range that doesn’t produce pain and gently rock the spine to either side again within the pain free range. Keep doing this a few times a week and soon you will discover that the pain free range is getting bigger. See our Thoracic Spine exercises video

 

4. Do less than half the amount you think you can do. The nature of the nervous system in chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, is a sense of overwhelm so you want to exercise without triggering the body into feeling under threat so always do less than half the amount you think you can. This may initially mean only a 2 minute walk but that is a start. It may not seem worth it but once your body realises that it can start to move without feeling threatened you can build up.

5. Do not exercise everyday to start with, or maybe even ever. You body needs to rest and recover between exercise especially initially.

6. If you feel triggered either with pain or anxiety whilst exercising then rest for a couple of minutes and use the techniques that suit you to decrease the overwhelming feelings before going back to the exercise. For instance on some days just raising your pulse rate means the body feels under threat. So stop, and use a simple breathing technique such as the 6 in: 6 out to help regulate and calm the sympathetic nervous system until you feel settled enough to return to what you were doing. On days like these initially you may have to keep the exercise at a low intensity but once your body starts to learn that exercise is not threatening then you should feel less triggered. It is also important to try to identify whether there is an emotion attached to why you have felt triggered as addressing this in the long term will help improve your exercise tolerance. our breathing techniques can be found here: ADD LINK

7. Keep Hydrated Whatever exercise you are doing it is important to keep hydrated as dehydration makes the muscles feel more restricted so drink extra on the days you move more

8. Walking with an understanding friend Exercising with a friend is a great way to get moving and the social interaction helps as a distraction and motivation to get out there.Pick your friend wisely as they need to be someone who gets it and is understanding if you can only manage a short amount of exercise initially.

9. Tai Chi / Qigong is an excellent starting exercise for fibromyalgia. It is known as moving meditation and is very low impact and very controlled. It doesn’t raise you pulse rate too much so is not overwhelming to the body but starts to get it moving. We have several videos that we recommend in the recovery toolkit on our website. ADD NEW LINK

10. Swimming is another good exercise to start with. The support of the water helps to support the body meaning it feels less under pressure. To start with we recommend moving in the water rather than masses of lengths. Float gently moving your limbs initially or walk in the water. Once you feel able to swim, again initially do less than half that you think you can achieve. You want to come out of the water feeling that you have done some exercise but that you still have energy in the tank which is very tricky with a fatigue condition. Building up slowly will increase your stamina. Once at the point of swimming lengths it is advisable to mix up your strokes. A length on your front then one on your back uses different muscle groups so gives each set a rest on alternate lengths.