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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : What kinds of exercise do you recommend for a person with fibromyalgia?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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August 17, 2011
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A:

I'm glad you asked about exercising with fibromyalgia. Many patients (and their doctors) are so focused on medicine that they may overlook exercise. Yet exercise should be a key part of treatment.

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread body pain. We don’t know what causes it. Medications can help. But they aren't always effective — and side effects are common.

Experts agree that it's important to exercise if you have fibromyalgia. In fact, I know doctors who won’t prescribe a medicine until the patient is exercising.

Many studies have shown that exercise helps fibromyalgia. But so far, no ideal type of exercise has been identified.

I recommend a combination of:

  • Aerobic exercise. Walk, swim or bike, as these exercises do not put high stress on the joints.
  • Stretching. People with fibromyalgia have less flexibility. So stretching out sore muscles and tendons can ease your pain.
  • Strengthening. Try exercises that increase muscle power and tone, including your core muscles (such as the back and abdominal muscles)

Recent research has also shown that Tai Chi can help.

Since there is no one best type of exercise for fibromyalgia, the first step is to gradually increase activity in whatever way you can. Pick an activity you enjoy so you'll stick with it. Pair up with an exercise partner. He or she can encourage you to exercise when you are tempted to skip. For many people, exercise is more fun when it's a social activity.

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