Symptoms of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), a condition characterized by chronic and often debilitating pain of muscles and fibrous tissues, may be eased by regular participation in aquatic exercise.
FMS affects approximately 12 million people in the United States.
While those who suffer from FMS experience symptoms differently,
the most common complex of symptoms include burning or stabbing
pain in muscles; tenderness in the neck, shoulders, back, pelvis,
hands and feet; fatigue and anxiety; and depression and poor
Physicians have long recommended exercise as a non-medical
treatment; but for most FMS sufferers, land-based exercise is
too strenuous or painful. Recent studies and significant
anecdotal data suggest that aquatic exercise is a better
Free from the stress of gravity, FMS patients feel relief from
pressure-point symptoms in the water, and the buoyancy cushions and
supports the body. Water exercise provides the same
endorphin-releasing benefits of land-based exercise to improve
depression, anxiety, fatigue and poor sleep. An added benefit is
that it is actually feasible for many FMS patients to perform
movements in the water. Consequently, physical and emotional
symptoms may be relieved.
An FMS water workout may include aerobic, core and limb strength
and flexibility training. The key is to keep all movement nonimpact
Aerobic movements should be performed as deep-water exercise, with
the participant suspended via flotation devices such as a water
running belt, if necessary. Depending on the
participant’s conditioning level and other considerations
such as relative joint health, appropriate deep-water exercise may
include running, walking or aerobics.
Strength training movements should be performed in water deep
enough to cover the moving muscles and joints; the deeper the
water, the greater the buoyancy effect and the less stress on the
rest of the body. However, participants should be shallow enough
that they can maintain control of the movement and props.
For example, if doing bicep curls, the elbow should be under water,
the rest of the body as deep as possible for comfort, but not so
deep the participant cannot control the aqua dumbbell.
Core-strengthening movements may be of particular benefit to those
suffering from neck and back pain.
Flexibility training is especially important for those who maintain
largely sedentary lifestyles. Stretching reduces risk of injury and
pain from poor body mechanics. To stretch safely in water, the area
being stretched should be completely submerged and the water must
Water temperature may be the biggest barrier to successful FMS
water exercise programs. FMS patients often report constantly
feeling cold, and may have trouble regulating body
In addition, warm water
relieves muscle soreness; cold may make muscles tense up or
“snap back” after being stretched, thus making the
water exercise counterproductive.
Water temperature above 88 degrees Fahrenheit with relatively
similar ambient temperatures (for indoor pools) is best. Otherwise,
participants could be encouraged to wear wet suits or skins to
maintain a sufficient body temperature.