Stiff muscles and severe pain in fibromyalgia patients may discourage them from trying to exercise. Studies have found, though, gentle exercise that isn’t too taxing on the body helps ease pain. Additionally, connective tissue massages provide further relief for patients.
A study published in Rheumatology International examined three groups of fibromyalgia patients: a group who exercised, another group who exercised and received connective tissue massages, and a final group who did not participate in either treatment. The results showed improvements for both the exercise-only and the exercise plus connective tissue massage groups compared to the group which did neither. However, more benefits came from the group that did both, particularly in improvements in sleep and overall well-being. The article “Exercise Plus Connective Tissue Therapy Massage Improves Quality of Life” from Fibromyalgia News Today includes this note from the research team who conducted the experiment, “Exercises with CTM might be superior in improving pain, fatigue and sleep problem, and role limitations due to physical health related to quality of life compared to exercise alone.”
Low-Impact Exercises for Fibromyalgia
Slow and steady is the name of the game for exercise strategies. Web MD advises patients to ask their doctor before they begin any routine, but take care even after they have their physician’s approval. In the article “Fibromyalgia-Friendly Exercises,” this piece of advice sets the tone for exercise planning: “The trick is to find something you like and do it for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If you need to start with 10 minutes and work your way up, do it.”
Additionally, warm-up and cool-down exercises couldn’t be more necessary. Some of these techniques are even recommended for the main portion of the exercise plan itself, such as stretches for flexibility and strength.
Here is a list of commonly recommended exercises:
- Walking: Good for holistic relief, walking provides a break from ordinary stress, new places to explore, invigorating yet low-impact activity for the muscles and heart, an opportunity to stretch out, and the best part? You set the pace. Unless the patient pushes himself or herself too hard, the only side effects of this exercise will be lightened mood, strengthened muscles, relief from leg cramps, and better sleep.
- Swimming or non-strenuous water aerobics: Gentle arm and leg exercises in a warm water pool are especially strengthening and relaxing for the muscles. These factors combined make going to the pool the perfect exercise therapy.
- Yoga: In this day and age, there is a type of yoga for almost every need. While most all types involve various methods of breathing and stretching, the ones that concentrate heavily on deep breathing and holding the same low-impact position for a longer time will be especially beneficial. According to Web MD, a certain type of yoga called viniyoga may be best for fibromyalgia, “Viniyoga is a type that mixes deep breathing with gentle stretches. It’s a great way to improve your health. You’ll need to find a good teacher who knows how to work with someone who has fibromyalgia.”
- Qigong: A Chinese combination of yoga and slow dance, qigong is a technique helpful for breathing, meditation, and strengthening/toning muscles gently.
- Easy weights for movement. Light weights combined with some sort of movement may be beneficial. No need to pull out the 50 pound barbells, and no gym membership required. Even household items will work, and it is so simple it can be done while multi-tasking. The bottom line in exercise is slow and steady, gentle and consistent. Almost anything that will stretch muscles, facilitate awareness of movement and posture, gently build strength, and ease stress counts as exercise.
While anyone can benefit from eased muscular and mental tensions as a result of a deep massage, Jimmy Gialelis from Massage Magazine cites improved sleep, muscle tone, mental focus, and reduced headaches and mental barriers, such as anxiety and depression, as results of massage therapy for fibromyalgia patients specifically.
Not all massages are beneficial for fibromyalgia, however, and some are even painful. The massage therapist definitely needs to know if fibromyalgia is a factor when calculating the best method of treatment.
The Swedish massage, known as the classic, alternates between light and deep pressure. It is often cited as the best technique for fibromyalgia. It has many of the stereotypical massage moves commonly seen, including kneading the muscles and tapping them with the sides of the hands. It also uses friction to heat the muscles, helping them to relax. Known for its detox properties, the Swedish massage releases toxins from the body’s tissues, and it is important to drink plenty of water and relax before and after treatment.
The myofascial also may be a beneficial massage therapy for fibro patients. It focuses on specific areas of chronic pain and/or tightness.
Reflexology, rubbing certain spots on the feet supposed to correspond with other areas in the body, and Cranial-sacral therapy are alternatives to traditional massages, which may host benefits as well.
Though the massage therapist should structure the patient’s therapy around fibro, there are certain techniques to be sure they avoid. There are barefoot massage, which involves the therapist walking on the patient’s back, rolfing/structural integration, and Thai, a form which combines yoga with massage therapy. This last one can be painful for everyone, and while it may be helpful for some people, it is certainly more taxing than the other types.
With all types of massages and reflexology, rest and relaxation are key. A good massage will limber up stiff aching muscles, making exercise much easier and fun as flexibility increases.
Mumal, Iqra. “Exercise Plus Connective Tissue Massage Helped Fibromyalgia Patients.” Fibromyalgia News Today, 13 Sept. 2017, www.fibromyalgianewstoday.com/2017/09/13/exercise-plus-connective-tissue-massage-helps-fibromyalgia-patients/.
Martin, Laura J. “Fibromyalgia Pain Relief With Stretching and Strength Exercises in Pictures.” WebMD, WebMD, 27 Aug. 2017, www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/ss/slideshow-fibromyalgia-friendly-exercises.
Madell, Robin, and Greg Minnis. “Ease Fibromyalgia Pain with These Easy Exercises.”Healthline, Healthline Media, 15 Sept. 2016, www.healthline.com/health/best-exercises-for-fibromyalgia-pain#stick-with-it.
Fibromyalgia: Management through Massage: https://www.massageenvy.com/massage/massage-benefits/fibromyalgia/
Gialelis, Jimmy. “5 Benefits of Massage for Fibromyalgia Patients.” MASSAGE Magazine, 10 May 2016, www.massagemag.com/5-benefits-massage-fibromyalgia-patients-36430/.
Fibromyalgia Massage: https://fibromyalgia.newlifeoutlook.com/fibromyalgia-massage/
Swedish Massage Technique: http://albanymassage.com/swedish-massage-techniques-%E2%80%93-the-5-steps-of-swedish-massage/
Thai Massage Technique: https://www.verywell.com/thai-massage-90010