September 10


Does Fibro Friendly Fitness Exist?

By Sue Ingebretson

September 10, 2013

aqua therapy, Exercise, Fitness, moving meditation, pools, qigong, swimming, therapy


Aqua Therapy as Fibro Friendly Fitness
Aqua Therapy as Fibro Friendly Fitness

Here’s the fibro fitness Catch 22 — we’re supposed to exercise to reduce pain, but it causes pain to exercise. So we don’t exercise. Then we feel more pain and continue to look for solutions.

Wait a minute … is that even logical?

This issue isn’t only connected to fibromyalgia or chronic health challenges such as ME/CFS, diabetes, arthritis, etc. Anyone with body pain and/or an injury can relate.

Maybe this has happened to you, too. You’re told that fitness (or that big bad word, exercise) is supposed to reduce pain, but it hurts too much to move, so when it comes to fitness, you say, “No thanks. I’ll pass.”

I get it. I personally followed that un-fitness protocol for years.

But then I decided to try my own methods. I started with a simple stretching routine at home and later included classes at a gym. That’s where I fell in love with tai chi. Was it love at first try? Nope. I thought if I had to do Moving-Hands-Like-Clouds all day, I’d go nuts. I thought it was way too slow. Only with time did I learn that I (my mind) was set on a speed that was way too fast.

That was my learning curve. Fast forward half a decade, and I’ve learned ways to make this transition even easier. Great results stem from combining moving meditations such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga with other fibro friendly fitness therapies.

And, combining activities saves time, too. Who wouldn’t want to get multiple benefits from the same time investment?

The key is to find the SWEET SPOT of fitness intensity that works for you. Too little (or no) movement isn’t enough to provide pain relief and too much movement can cause even more pain. Look for that perfect balance of movement and intensity that creates a challenge but isn’t detrimental. Work up slowly to an intensity level that works for your specific fitness needs.

Here’s a great fitness option to try.

Combine the healing benefits of moist heat, the relaxation and stress-management benefits of moving meditations, and the physical benefits of non-impact stretching and muscle activity. Achieve this all and more with Aqua Therapy!

Aqua Therapy Pool Fibromyalgia
Aqua Therapy Pool – Fibromyalgia

My own experience parallels the results of studies that have shown fitness to be an amazing pain reducer. The healthier I am (and the more fit), the less pain I experience. It’s that fundamental.

The therapeutic benefits of warm water are many, but as a whole, it’s soothing to both mind and the body. Moving in water allows the body to use resistance to tone muscles while still allowing the body to move freely without stress or impact.

While the healing benefits of natural bodies of water are greater (depending on water quality, of course), even man-made pools can prove beneficial. If possible, seek out saltwater pools that don’t use chlorine and chemicals. And, of course a warm consistent temperature is a must. Look for recommendations to aqua therapy classes in your area through physical therapy clinics, local chiropractors, yoga studios, community centers, and senior centers.

For those of us with fibromyalgia, arthritis, and/or other chronic health challenges, daily movement conditions, tones, and soothes sore muscles and painful joints.

So, why not make it count? Add aqua therapy to your toolbox of fitness routines to consider. Keep in mind that there are many great fibro friendly fitness options to try.

Have you experienced aqua therapy? Tell this Rebuilding Wellness community all about it!


Sue IngebretsonInterested in co-creating your own program to heal from the inside out? Check out Sue’s Rebuilding Wellness site – and click on the Work With Sue tab to learn more.

  1. Yes, I used to have a facility right around the corner that I went to. It was billed as an Arthritis class. The pool was a lovely 92 degrees. It was heavenly for the arthritis but not so much for my damaged neck and for feeling woozy sometimes–dizzy, spacey. Maybe I was just way relaxed. I soon modified the program for myself as no one was in the deep end. I used a noodle and loved it. But of course, as all things in life do happen, this pool is no longer available for classes:( There are two known places to try. The one is known to be chemically unbalanced and swimsuits were actually deteriorating! Both are not close. These pools are kept warmer. The YMCA pool isn’t and outside pools need to reach a higher temp for my body to respond well. But as to the benefits–had a better waistline, more relaxed, muscles more defined, and yes, as long as didn’t push myself so much, a great way to achieve wellness.

    1. I’m so glad, Julie, you were able to experience the success of this activity. That success can translate to other activities as well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I LOVE warm pool therapy!! I started it a few years back at a physical therapy clinic with a therapist who specializes in FMS. And now, I just do it in my own backyard. I don’t do it as often as I’d like, but it really is fantastic!! I combine all kinds of movement, including tai chi and yoga poses. Sue hit the nail on the head…its good for your mind, body, and soul!! It’s healing exercise. I highly recommend trying this!!! Your body, mind, and soul will thank you!!

    1. Thanks Bri for your valuable input. It’s lovely to try new things and to share your successes with others so they may feel empowered to try something new, too!

  3. I have experience the great healing benefits of qigong with my fibromyalgia. The simple slow flowing movements and deep breathing coupled with the mindful relaxed state allows me to not only exercise my body but also experience the deep healing of the nervous system that is so important for healing fibromyalgia. The movements in qigong actually are designed to massage the same points that are used in accupuncture and to help circulate the lymph and blood in a way that helps reduce the edema that plagues some with fibromyalgia. Qigong also teaches many self massage and self accupressure techniques that are really helpful including even massage for your abdominal organs which is helpful for those with IBS or other digestive ailments. Qigong also teaches you to balance your “qi” or energy and to draw upon nature to enhance your healing. The exercises drawing qi from both the earth and the heavens and circulating them throughout the energetic system of your body is renewing for both body, mind and spirit. In qigong you are often taught to be like water and so doing qigong near a running stream or lake can enhance your practice. And I have found aqua aerobics classes great for fitness and self taught myself a form of qigong you can practice in water called Ai Chi which I have found very healing since having had back injuries that causes neuropathy pain and sometimes weakness in my legs gives me the ability to relax into a fuller range of motion into my legs than standing on land. In qigong you can also adapt the exercises to be done sitting, lying down or even in a wheel chair. For me the flowing nature of qigong’s movements is important because having practiced yoga for years found that when I developed fibromyalgia often yoga’s emphasis on maintaining static (non-moving) postures was aggravating trigger points and led to painful flares. Qigong historically was developed to enhance health and the simplicity of movement is purposeful to help people enter a relaxed state that lets you stop trying or thinking too hard as you do the movements. I would say some tai chi sets of exercises sometimes can be too stressful for some of those with fibromyalgia because of the number of movements which require coordination gets in the way of entering the relaxed state when beginning to learn tai chi. There are simplified tai chi sets that are best for beginners so in the beginning look for those practices to start since stress is a big factor in inducing fibromyalgia flares. Tai chi is excellent to improve balance and in healing your brain and body’s ability to coordinate your movements as well as improving the ability to focus your mind as well as many of the same benefits of qigong. You can practice both qigong and tai chi and many teachers utilize both in their classes or DVD’s. Qigong teaches you to honor your body’s ability to heal itself and listen to what your unique body is needing to heal. So go slow and flow following what works for you.

    1. Bonnie – so glad you shared your wealth of experience with us! I, too, love qigong as well as tai chi and have learned much from meditative movement practices. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing more from you.

  4. Aqua therapy works because it enables patients to exercise body parts assisted by the bouyancy of water. Gravity is the enemy of fibromyalgia patients, whose spastic muscles need relaxation as well as tone increased by use. As an aside, the utility of Ribose for muscle spasm and sense of fatigue is something that needs to be explored. Apparently, early reports are favorable.

    1. Laura,

      Other than the suggestions listed in the post, you could also look up your local arthritis association and ask for referrals. I know there are several in this area. Let me know if you need further help!

  5. I have enjoyed gentle yoga, I’ve found it helps me calm my mind and relax as well as stretch my muscles, but not in a way that I overdo it. I take restorative and yin yoga classes and they really help my fibro aches and pains, and even help me sleep better. And helps my digestion system slow down. I wish I had an aqua therapy center near me! I have tried Ribose several times, and it either gave me the nervous sweats, or it did nothing :/

    1. Thanks for your valuable input! It’s always good to hear about the experiences we have “in the trenches” so to speak.

    1. Rona – I’m so glad you’ve found the warm water therapy to be soothing and peaceful. What a great combo!

  6. I have not tried any of these but my problem is getting motivated to move because It’s gonna hurt no matter what, even if I know I need to. There is no pay off for me! However what I found that works for me is to do something that is lightly physical that I enjoy with my mind, if I can get some stress relief and ex-hale and work my body at the same time then movement then becomes some what worth it. For me it is equine therapy. I know I’m gonna hurt like hell the next day but the exhale I get from touching, cleaning, riding, the aroma and all of it together eases my soul. Taking in mind that what I do is not a half hour lesson where you hop on the horse and someone tells you how to ride, it’s the whole horse experience, brushing, grooming, tacking up, bathing, light corral raking and yes riding too:-) You do not have to start strong with horses but you will be stronger as time goes by and you will learn to feel good about pushing your self a little further each time:-)

  7. Thank you for this info! I’ve been trying to get back into pilates (my pre-fibro exercise of choice), but my body isn’t nearly as flexible as it used to be, and even taking it slow and modifying the poses, I end up with muscles that seem intent on fighting me every step of the way. It doesn’t help my mental state, either, when trying to take action to get active again just makes me hurt more. (I swear, sometimes I think the most difficult thing about this condition is staying optimistic!)

    We took a family trip to Florida last month and after looking back, I realize how much better I felt while in the pool and after getting out (just your standard swimming pool, even – although, interestingly enough, the pool right across from our condo at our resort was a saltwater pool and I loved the warm water in that pool!) – I have a feeling aquatic therapy may be exactly what I need to help my body adjust to exercise again. I’ve already got a call into my doctor for a referral to a local physical therapy group who does aquatic therapy and am going to schedule an appointment with them as soon as I receive the referral. I am also going to switch out my pilates for a ‘yoga for beginners’ program in my Amazon queue and see if my body prefers the yoga to pilates right now. I’ve got to get out of the mindset that the 45 minutes of hard running on the elliptical and hour-long cardio class that I used to be able to do isn’t the only way to get fit again!

    1. Amanda, I’m SO glad to hear that you’re looking to respect your body’s needs by finding the fitness program that works WITH you rather than against you. So many people simply give up and feel that there’s nothing out there that works. However, it takes persistence and drive to keep looking and find just the right fit. Congrats to you as you’re well on your way!

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