Physical Therapy Exercises for Fibromyalgia

hand clenching shoulder muscleWhat is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic musculoskeletal condition that affects one’s joints and soft tissues. Although symptoms vary from one patient to the next, the most common symptoms associated with fibromyalgia are widespread pain, often known as “tender points,” and fatigue. Other symptoms include depression, anxiety, abdominal pain, chronic headaches and an inability to concentrate. Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibromyalgia as it is one of the most misunderstood rheumatologic conditions.

For people suffering from fibromyalgia, their biggest source of relief is derived from lifestyle changes that are focused on pain management and stress reduction using techniques like exercise and behavior modification.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help Fibromyalgia?

Tasked with teaching people self-management skills for their bodies, physical therapists have the expertise to effectively assist patients with fibromyalgia. Addressing chronic stiffness and symptoms of pain, physical therapists offer patients with fibromyalgia a number of exercises that are geared towards building strength, improving range of motion and obtaining relief from deep muscle pain. Furthermore, they also educate patients with fibromyalgia on avoiding activities that will exaggerate their pain/symptoms.

How Can Physical Therapy Relieve Fibromyalgia?

Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, physical therapy can be one of the most effective self-management skills for coping with this condition. If done correctly and incorporated into one’s daily activities, exercise can successfully reduce stiffness and fatigue, strengthen muscles, and increase flexibility, as well as range of motion. To assist with the process, physical therapists may also incorporate specific activities that enhance the treatment program such as therapeutic massage, heat packs, hydrotherapy and more.

The physical therapist will document your progress such as, changes in aerobic endurance, flexibility, strength and pain levels to ensure the exercises and activities you’re learning are helping you manage your symptoms in preparation for independent self-management using a home exercise program. In the long run, the goal is for the patient to reduce his or her reliance on the doctor and make these lifestyle changes a permanent fixture in his or her life.

For patients with fibromyalgia, physical therapists typically recommend the following activities:

Aquatic Therapy
Requiring the assistance of a physical therapist, aquatic therapy is the act of physical therapy in a water-filled pool. The buoyancy of water in particular makes it perfect for rehabilitation, where it enhances the exercise by providing support and mitigating resistance. In addition, patients with fibromyalgia are less likely to experience pain in the water as it induces muscle relaxation and helps with stretching.

Other benefits may include a decrease in body weight, less stress on weight-bearing joints, increased circulation, increased strength, coordination, endurance and balance, as well as an increased range of motion. Moreover, aquatic therapy is considered one of the best treatments for people with fibromyalgia because of the consistent temperature maintained by the water and the limited stress on the patient’s body.

Low to Moderate Level Aerobic Exercise

Most people with fibromyalgia initially fear exercise due to their belief that exercise will only exacerbate the pain. However, maintaining a consistent low to moderate level aerobic exercise regimen directly addresses the chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia by decreasing the inflammatory response that causes the chronic pain.

Working with a physical therapist will ensure that that does not occur, where the exercise regimen will mostly be geared towards brisk walking at least two to three times a week. Working with a physical therapist will ensure that you begin your aerobic exercise regimen at a low level that does not cause a pain exacerbation. Then the therapist will help you slowly build up your exercise capacity to a level you can maintain. Common aerobic exercises include walking, biking, or elliptical machines.

Group Exercise

Group exercise can be particularly beneficial for patients with fibromyalgia as it encourages them to maintain a consistent exercise regimen. Ongoing group exercise will contribute to improvements in physical function and psychological distress. Due to these noted improvements, participants may be more likely to continue their exercises home.

Gentle Stretching

To give your joints and muscles some extra attention, gentle stretching should be one of your main ways of managing fibromyalgia symptoms. By decreasing tension around the muscles and joints, consistent, gentle stretching will enhance your range of motion and lubricate your joints. Gentle stretches can consist of static stretching, yoga and Pilates. The stretches should always be performed in a pain free range of motion.

Light to Moderate Strength Training

Engaging in light to moderate strength training on a consistent basis will reduce your symptoms by boosting your mood, and increase strength. More specifically, studies have shown that using free weights to conduct strength training is effective in reducing pain and minimizing depression for people with fibromyalgia. The focus shouldn’t necessarily be on using free weights, but strengthening throughout your available range of motion. A variety of methods can be used for increasing strength such as resistance bands, body weight exercises, weight training machines and water resistance. Using a variety of methods in your workout regimen will yield well rounded results. Since there is a potential for executing strength training exercises incorrectly, discuss strength training techniques with your physical therapist before attempting to do them on your own.

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