Exercising with Fibromyalgia

Kelly Anne Spratt, D.O., Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center, answers your questions.

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Q. Can you recommend any exercises that are good for fibromyalgia in the neck and shoulder blade area?

A. Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder that causes muscle pain and tenderness. Symptoms also include morning stiffness and chronic fatigue. Exercise is a critical part of the healing of these aching muscles. In addition, massage and muscle relaxing drugs are often part of the treatment regimen. Regular, low impact aerobic and stretching exercise may reduce your pain and even help with sleeping problems, a frequent problem with fibromyalgia.

Start with a mild level of exercise for 5 minutes at a time and gently build this by 5 minutes every few days to every week. This may mean starting with simple stretches and lifting soup cans for weights! It may be months before you can build up to 30 to 45 minutes on a daily basis, but most people report almost immediate benefit to tired muscles.

As you've found, the muscles in the neck and shoulders are especially affected by fibromyalgia. For your neck and shoulder involvement you might want to try swimming, especially in warmer water, or any other type of aquatic therapy. Machines such as combination rowing and gliding machines are also excellent for upper body strength. If you use such machines, keep the tension settings low or they may injure your muscles. If you can afford a personal trainer for even a few sessions to teach you how to use these machines, this may avoid damage in the long run. Keep moving and you will see the benefits!

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