4 Great exercises for fibromyalgia

Fran Garton 11 March 2022

For those who suffer from long-term pain, these are some great exercises to try 

Being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia ten years ago shattered my life. Anger, frustration, fear, and eventually acceptance. It took trial and error to find the right combination of strategies that eliminated pain and minimised flare-ups.

Changing my approach to movement, mindset and nutrition keeps my body healthy, manages pain, improves sleep, reduces stress and allows me to live pain-free.   

What is fibromyalgia?

Do you really know what fibro is? You’ve heard the word and you probably even know people who have it (Lady Gaga has it!), but do you really know what it is? It’s often lumped in with arthritis, but fibro isn’t inflammatory or degenerative and doesn’t affect the joints. In Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Pain, fibromyalgia is broken down into its three root words: “fibro” which means fibrous, “myo'' which means muscle and “algia” which means pain, so it’s literally pain in the muscles and connective tissue, but it’s a bit more complex than that.

The Mayo Clinic defines fibromyalgia as a disorder characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way the brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals. There are no specific tests for fibro, but it’s generally agreed that there are 18 trigger points affected. The pain threshold is significantly lower if you have fibro. It’s a “diagnosis of elimination” being given once other conditions have been ruled out. 

My four favourite exercises

Before starting a new exercise routine, it should be reviewed and approved by the appropriate medical or trained professional to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

According to Brianna Katterhorn, M.OMSc, B.Sc, Osteopathic Manual Practitioner, “to decrease muscular and joint pain from fibromyalgia, exercise or general movement that increases circulation and decreases stress and inflammation are ideal.

Some options include walking, guided gentle stretching, tai chi, biking, and core improvement exercises. Doing exercises that target a few muscle groups (ie, legs not just quadriceps), rather than specific muscles, is beneficial for fibro.” As you try the exercises below, go slowly, and keep a journal to record your body’s response before and after exercising. 

Exercise 1:

Seated Glute Stretch (Figure 4)—Sit on a chair, cross right ankle over left thigh. Lean forward with a straight spine. Hold for a few seconds, return to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times. Repeat with the other leg. 

Video: Seated Glute Stretch (Figure 4) 

Benefits: Increases hip mobility and stability; helps muscles and joints move more freely; increases spine and low back flexibility; stabilises hip joint; stretches inner thigh.

Exercise 2: 

Ear Pulls—Gently look left and right identifying tight neck muscles. Turn your head to one side. Place ear cartilage between index finger and thumb. Gently tug and unroll your ear moving from the centre of the ear down to the earlobe. Repeat 3-5 times. Repeat on the other side.  

Video: Ear Pulls

Benefits: Eases tension in neck, face and shoulders; increases circulation; targets reflexology points on the ear; helps release endorphins to reduce pain. 

Exercise 3: 

Standing Side Bend—Stand with feet hip width apart and arms at side of body. Gently bend at waist to the right sliding right hand down leg toward knee. Do not push your left hip out. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat 3-5 times. Repeat on the left side. 

Video: Standing Side Bend

Benefits: Helps stretch back and side muscles; improves spinal flexibility; helps stabilise and strengthen abdominals.

Exercise 4:

Bird Dog—On all fours, engage abdominals, gently extend the opposite arm and leg away from the body and slowly lift arm and leg off the floor. Imagine extending limbs toward opposite walls. Keep your left hip pointing toward the floor (don’t let it rotate open). Hold for 10 seconds, work up to 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side. 

Video: Bird Dog

Benefits: Relieves low back pain, improves stability, posture and mobility; encourages a neutral spine; strengthens hips, back and abdominals; develops mind/body connection. 

These exercises provide many benefits and are great even if you don’t have fibromyalgia. They may look “easy”, but your muscles will be working and you may even sweat! During a pain flare, you may want to avoid exercise, but you shouldn’t. Rachel Dodds, physiotherapist, recommends various lifestyle changes including regular exercise to aid in pain reduction.

The more you move, the better you’ll feel. There are many movement options out there, so I encourage you to try a few of them until you find ones that you really enjoy. You are in control of your body, your condition and how you respond to your diagnosis. It is possible to live a full, pain-free life despite having fibromyalgia. 

Fran Garton, Pain Reduction Coach, helps women who desperately want to live pain-free. She teaches her clients to identify their triggers, reduce stress + set boundaries with easy-to-implement mindset, movement + nutrition strategies. Living without pain is possible and Fran can show you how.

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