PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Exercise was established as an integral part of the nonpharmacological treatment of fibromyalgia approximately 20 years ago. Since then many studies have investigated the effects of exercise-either alone or in combination with other interventions. This review will discuss the benefits of exercise alone and provide practical suggestions on how patients can exercise without causing a long-term exacerbation of their pain.
RECENT FINDINGS: Short-term exercise programs for individuals with fibromyalgia have consistently improved physical function, especially physical fitness, and reduced tenderpoint pain. Exercise has also produced improvements in self-efficacy. These effects can persist for periods of up to 2 years but may require participants to continue to exercise. Most exercise studies have examined the effects of moderately intense aerobic exercise. Only in the past 2 years have muscle-strengthening programs, in isolation, been evaluated. To be well tolerated, exercise programs must start at a level just below the capacity of the participants and then progress slowly. Even with these precautions, exercise may still produce tolerable, short-term increases in pain and fatigue that should abate within the first few weeks of exercising.
SUMMARY: Future studies should investigate the possible benefits of low-intensity exercise and test strategies that may enhance long-term compliance with exercise. Individuals with fibromyalgia also need to be able to access community exercise programs that are appropriate for them. This may require community instructors to receive instruction on exercise prescription and progression for individuals with fibromyalgia.