Exercise for Fibromyalgia Pain Relief

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to work with a very nice lady who was trying desperately to reduce the painful effects of fibromyalgia. She had been suffering for years as a result of this painful and debilitating condition.

Like most chronic pain conditions, the worst thing may not even be the pain itself. It is the effect that the pain has on the rest of your life. In my client’s case, she had spent the first year of her daughter’s life in bed. Every day, for a year, unable to care for her baby girl.

When I met her, she was in much better shape. Her daughter was no longer a baby. She participated in her daughter’s life. She had a challenging career. She was happy. But she was still in constant pain.

She came to me after having quite a few bad experiences with different forms of physical and exercise therapy. At the time, I was working at a fitness club just north of Toronto. She was initially assigned to work with a young, female trainer. It didn’t go well. The young trainer had a solid knowledge of how to help people get lean, fit & healthy. Unfortunately, she knew little about fibromyalgia. During their first workout, she treated her client like a normal, PAIN FREE person. Bad move.

A week later, our fibromyalgia lady returned and demanded her money back. She had spent days in bed, popping pills and regretting ever coming into our gym. I don’t know how, but the owner of the club managed to calm her down and have her agree to sit down and talk with me.

At our first meeting, I had only a general knowledge of fibromyalgia and had never worked with a Fibro client.  I did, however, know how to talk, or rather listen to justifiably angry women. Yes, I am married. We discussed her condition. I gave her my opinion and told her that I would spend the next few days researching the subject in more depth and come back to her with a plan.

A few days later, we met and talked again. At that second meeting, we discussed my findings, clarified a few more issues and outlined what my plan for her fitness training would include. After about half an hour of chit-chat, we began our workout. It was very slow at the beginning. Very slow. In fact, it took us almost 3 months before I started to notice a ‘real’ change in her body.

After a further 3 months, she had training harder than some of my non-Fibro clients. More importantly, her day to day life improved drastically. Less pain. Stronger. Fitter. Healthier.

NOTE – For those of you out there who know someone like my former client, please show them the following research paper, along with my story and do what you have to do to get them moving. They will thank you for it. Not right away…right away they’re gonna hate you, but eventually, as they get better, they will thank you.

Group Exercise, Education, and Combination Self-management in Women With Fibromyalgia A Randomized Trial Daniel S. Rooks, ScD; Shiva Gautam, PhD; Matthew Romeling, BS; Martha L. Cross, BS; Diana Stratigakis, BA; Brittany Evans, BS; Don L. Goldenberg, MD; Maura D. Iversen, DPT, SD, MPH; Jeffrey N. Katz, MD, MS Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(20):2192-2200.

 Background Self-management has increasingly been recommended as part of standard care for fibromyalgia, a common, poorly understood condition with limited treatment options. Data that assess popular self-management recommendations are scarce. We evaluated and compared the effectiveness of 4 common self-management treatments on function, symptoms, and self-efficacy in women with fibromyalgia.

Methods A total of 207 women with confirmed fibromyalgia were recruited from September 16, 2002, through November 30,2004, and randomly assigned to 16 weeks of (1) aerobic and flexibility exercise (AE); (2) strength training, aerobic, and flexibility exercise (ST); (3) the Fibromyalgia Self-Help Course (FSHC);or (4) a combination of ST and FSHC (ST-FSHC). The primary outcomewas change in physical function from baseline to completion of the intervention. Secondary outcomes included social and emotional function, symptoms, and self-efficacy.

Results Improvements in the mean Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire score in the 4 groups were –12.7 for the ST-FSHC group,–8.2 for the AE group, –6.6 for the ST group, and–0.3 for the FSHC group. The ST-FSHC group demonstrated greater improvement than the FSHC group (mean difference, –12.4;95% confidence interval [CI], –23.1 to –1.7). TheST-FSHC (mean difference, 13.6; 95% CI, 2.3 to 24.9) and AE(mean difference, 13.1; 95% CI, 1.6 to 25.6) groups had similar improvements in physical function scores on the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey. Bodily pain scores on the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey improved in the ST-FSHC (14.8), AE (13.2), andST (5.7) groups. Social function, mental health, fatigue, depression,and self-efficacy also improved. The beneficial effect on physical function of exercise alone and in combination with education persisted at 6 months.

Conclusions Progressive walking, simple strength training movements, and stretching activities improve functional status,key symptoms, and self-efficacy in women with fibromyalgia actively being treated with medication. The benefits of exercise are enhanced when combined with targeted self-management education.Our findings suggest that appropriate exercise and patient education be included in the treatment of fibromyalgia.


  • Exercise is effective for fibromyalgia pain relief
  • Starting an exercise program WILL be painful for a Fibro client
  • Fibro clients should NOT be trained like every other client
  • Fibro clients need to be willing to push themselves
  • Fibro clients need to help their trainers understand how their body is responding to the workouts
  • Trainers need to be very, very sensitive to how their clients are responding
  • Fibro clients should expect this that fitness training might be very difficult at the beginning of their journey


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  1. I have fibromyalgia, and I came across your page by mere fortuity. One of the only things that keeps me going is exercise. It’s so important, and for a fibro sufferer, probably the most important thing. I am medication free, and have even begun to run regularly. Yes, I am in constant pain, but it is managed now, all because of exercise.

  2. I’ve had fibro for over twenty years, so I can say from experience that complete lack of exercise can be as bad as too much exercise. Without exercise, stiffness and pain can build up to very stressful levels. That makes it much harder to do what has to be done to relieve it — start exercising. Very slowly, very gently, and not to the point of excessive fatigue, which can actually set you back, as your first client found out.

  3. I don’t have fibromyalgia but was diagnosed with osteoarthritus in my knees age 49. Was using sticks to walk. While pushing my new grandson in his pram we were caught in a terrible snow storm, and I almost ran to the car , WITH NO PAIN, WAS AMAZED. As I didn’t take conventional medicine only “alternatives” I think I am letting my body learn to heal its self. 5 years on and I am starting to run and cycle, only slowly and gently, most pain is relieved by exercising, often difficult to start when in pain.I’m hopeful I will continueto get more mobile, as joints seem to be loosening up. Perhaps I was mis-diagnosed, who knows. Wish someone had told me to exercise at the beginning, but you have just got to try, I am so grateful to be walking and able to go upstairs.

  4. Exercise is what keep my mom pain-free. It’s amazing what natural prescriptions can do for one’s health.

    “Walking is a man’s best medicine.” ~Hippocrates

  5. I am a family doctor in Temecula, Ca. and I have noticed that 100% of my patients with Fibromyalgia have Vitamin D deficiency. I have noticed that those with more pain have lower levels of Vitamin D.

    Interestingly, Merck Manual clearly states under – Symptoms and Signs- ” Vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle aches, muscle weakness, and bone pain at any age.” (http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec01/ch004/ch004k.html?qt=vitamin%20d%20deficiency&alt=sh#sec01-ch004-ch004l-438 )

    I have had success in helping a few patients with fibromyalgia. It is real important that those with fibromyalgia get their Vitamin D 25-OH levels checked. The treatment is with Vitamin D3 (Not regular Vitamin D), probably 4,000-8,ooo IU daily depending on your levels. It is important to discuss this with your doctor before initiating therapy. Best of Luck! Eric Madrid MD (www.healthandsurvival.com)

  6. Well, no doubt exercise can help maintaining or improving one’s condition. Exercise is effective reducing pain as through practice one’s strength and flexibility in movement really improves. This women were lucky. But this is very individual, and I believe every exercise should be agreed with one’s physician.

  7. I have fibromyalgia and it got to the point where I needed crutches to walk. Exercise at this point was almost out of the question.
    Whilst I believe exercise plays an extremely important role in helping reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia, you need to find the right medication combo to reduce the pain enough to allow you to start exercising.
    Most doctors dismiss suffers of fibromyalgia give them anti-inflammatories (which don’t work) and leave them to it. If you have fibro, you need to find a doctor that will treat your symptoms and who will do the hard yards to get you on the right medication combo.
    Since getting on the right meds, I no longer experience any pain, don’t need crutches and am now leading an extremely active life.

  8. Fibromyalgia is an often misunderstood medical condition and its effects are unimaginable for those of us who do not have the condition, however it is important to be patient and supportive of fibromyalgia persons. Although fibromyalgia is very painful it is treatable and exercise -if performed properly- may beneficial for persons with the disease. Low impact, gentle exercises with an emphasis on stretching are good for the joints and reduces stress. Swimming, tai chi and less intense forms of yoga are good exercises for people with fibromyalgia. To learn more, please read the article “Fibromyalgia and Exercise” which is found here:


    With patient, determination and support, persons with fibromyalgia can lead happy, fulfilling lives. As with any challenge in life, the victorious are the ones who overcome obstacles rather than caving to them.


    Published daily, “Living Fit, Healthy and Happy” is a family-friendly physical fitness resource website with articles on fitness, anti-aging, obesity, diabetes, eating disorders, cardiovascular health and many other health related issues. There’s always something for you at “Living Fit, Healthy and Happy”.


  9. I’m so sick of people saying exercise helps people with fibromyalgia !!! I have fibromyalgia and have tried everything and I can say the exercise near killed me this treatment only works for some people not all fibromyalgia sufferers so please add that it doesn’t work for all sufferers !! When I read things like this statement I hurt more. People are all different and some treatment might not work for everyone.

  10. @Steve,

    While I agree with you that people are different and fibromyalgia affects people differently and exercise is not a magic solution for all fibro sufferers, I should also point out that when I work with clients with fibro, the “exercise prescription” is in constant flux depending upon how the client responds.

    Just telling a fibro client to ride an exercise bike or lift weights or do yoga is not going to help.

    The first client with fibro that I ever worked with had been trying to exercise for months. They had worked with physios and trainers and physical movement practitioners to no avail.

    I watched her do a session with a personal trainer who had zero knowledge of fibro and did nothing to modify the workout. Suffice it to say, the client was in extreme pain, had to stop the session and stormed out of the gym.

    When she returned the next day to get a refund on her membership, the owner of the club asked me to sit down with her. We talked for a couple of hours as she explained what her experience with fibro was like. After that, I grabbed one of the other trainers and used her to demo the type of workout I thought would be appropriate. (I also suggested that she yell at the club owner a little more & demand some free sessions with me – which she did)

    The first few months were quite painful for her. They were also slow & boring – staying focused on muscle imbalances and mobility & muscular endurance.

    Eventually, she could do more & more. And then the post workout pain got a little better. And then the workout pain lessened and she could push even harder.

    After 2 years, her workouts were tougher than most people in the gym, her strength & coordination were vastly improved and her day to day activities were much easier as they were nothing compared to the physical exertion or her workouts.

    The activities that used to cause her a 6 or 7 out of 10 on her pain scale were now a 2 or 3.

    Anyway, that’s how I started training people with fibro. And every client has been different. Some better & some worse.

  11. Very good article! We so appreciate articles that encourage people to exercise. We find that immobility is a key factor in pain. At our medical practice that is something we encourage people to avoid at all costs in order to stay healthy. If people are unable to exercise due to pain, we offer a treatment called Prolotherapy that is very effective in treating painful conditions because it treats the underlying cause which can often be ligament, joint, or tendon laxity/instability. Thanks for the article!

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