A rheumatologist finally diagnosed my fibromyalgia in 1990, after an exhaustive, decades-long search by me for pain relief. In addition to the diagnosis, he doled out some of the most valuable advice anyone has ever given me. He said that the best way to survive life with fibromyalgia is to stretch my muscles every day.
During the intervening years, I’ve discovered that a particularly painful period often follows a lapse in stretching or exercise. Once that is rectified, my pain level should decrease.
My rheumatologist’s top recommendation was warm-water exercise. However, he acknowledged that there would be circumstances when a pool wasn’t an option or when fatigue or other symptoms might prevent me from going to one. “On those days,” he said, “even if you don’t get out of bed, stretching is still a must!”
For years, I was fortunate to have an affordable warm-water pool located near my home. Swimming three or more times a week definitely helped me to control my symptoms. I believe it was the reason I could work full time and attend college at night — all while being a soccer mom.
The advantage of warm water for me is that it relaxes the muscles and reduces the chance of spasms. It also makes stretching almost effortless. I can do more of it before becoming tired or sore. Increasing one’s range of motion is the primary goal of stretching. Whatever becomes easy to do in the water will become easier to do on land as well.
Currently, I have no warm-water pool available. I’ve learned that a cold-water pool (one that’s under 85 F) does my muscles more harm than good. Due to the pandemic, many pools have closed or are open only for limited use. I’m not the only one who needs an alternative solution.
For me, walking has been the best substitute. I don’t walk quickly enough to consider it aerobic exercise, but it certainly does stretch my muscles. It’s a form of stretching that’s free, and it’s always possible to do at any time of day. That’s a real plus for me. Most days, my best energy is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. However, occasionally, I don’t begin to feel human until after 6 p.m.
For the past couple of years, I have used walking as my sole source of stretching and exercise. And it has served me well — until recently. I began to realize that my worst pain was in my upper body, including my upper back, shoulders, and neck. The reason finally dawned on me: Walking doesn’t stretch those parts of my body.
So, I’ve added a new routine to my day. When I awake in the morning, even before I get out of bed or open my eyes, I stretch.
Because my body is usually stiff and sore at that time, I begin slowly. While lying on my back, I do many of the upper body stretches I was taught to do in a standing position by physical therapists over the years. I hold each stretch while I breathe in and out three times.
In addition to limbering up my joints and loosening my muscles, by the time I’m finished I feel more mentally ready to face the day.
It’s been less than two weeks, but I can feel the benefits already. This morning, I reached for a new box of cereal on a top shelf. That reach wasn’t as difficult or as painful as normal. I’m confident it’s the result of my new morning stretches.
So, when you’re incorporating a stretching routine into your life, be sure to include your entire body, both upper and lower. Your body will thank you.
Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.