How Exercise Can Alleviate the Pain of Fibromyalgia

Exercise is critical to improving your quality of life and can help with pain.
A significant body of research shows that, for people with fibromyalgia, exercise can improve their physical and emotional well-being, prevent the muscle wasting that avoiding activity can bring, and for some even alleviate pain. Fibromyalgia sufferers often become less and less active as the pain takes over, scared to do any kind of movement that could make the pain worse. That starts a vicious, debilitating circle.

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"This fear, which is seen to varying degrees among people with fibromyalgia, is a huge obstacle to getting people to be more physically active," says Daniel Rooks, PhD, who studied fibromyalgia as an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and now works with musculoskeletal diseases at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, in Cambridge, Mass.

In 2007, Rooks and his colleagues published research showing that walking, strength training, and even stretching can improve physical pain and emotional well-being in fibromyalgia patients.

One patient finds relief through movement
Diana Tolton says her pain, which intensified around age 30, was "excruciating. On a scale of one to 10, I would tell my pain doctor '20.'"

Before fibromyalgia, Tolton, 51, of Tucson, Ariz., was an active woman who loved running and bicycle racing. After the syndrome developed, her day-to-day pain levels became more of a "roller coaster," with unpredictable swells that would pose major speed bumps.

But in the 20 years since the pain began, Tolton has found exercise to be one of the critical tools in managing her neck and shoulder pain.

"Exercise is number 1 for me," explains Tolton. "Mostly it's cardiovascular and then weights. I ride, I jog. Walking, even, as I get older … anything where I'm conditioning the muscles seems to help me."

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Lead writer: Suzanne Levy
Last Updated: May 09, 2008

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