Treatment Interventions

How Does Graded Exercise Help Those With Fibromyalgia and What to Expect

Written by Carron Manning, Co-Founder of Chiron and Chartered Physiotherapist MSc BSc MCSP

Graded exercise is a therapeutic approach that involves gradually and systematically increasing physical activity levels over time. When applied appropriately, it can be beneficial for people with chronic pain in several ways.

Chiron and chronic pain 

We aim to be a support alongside your journey and we know that there are many pieces to the puzzle that is chronic pain. Graded exercise is just one of those pieces - so let’s take a look at how it can help with your ADLs, activities of everyday life.  

How graded exercise helps with chronic pain 

Firstly, graded exercise can help improve your physical function as it aims to improve physical function by gradually reintroducing and increasing activity levels. This helps individuals build strength, flexibility, and endurance, leading to improved overall physical functioning. 

This type of exercise can also contribute to a reduction in the perception of pain. Regular physical activity has been shown to stimulate the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, which can help alleviate pain symptoms. 

Graded exercise can also enhance joint mobility and flexibility. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with conditions causing stiffness or limited range of motion, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. 

There is also an increase in cardiovascular fitness when adding cardio exercises to your fitness regime. This is an element of graded exercise that can have positive effects on overall well-being and may also contribute to pain management. 

woman exercising indoors

Prevention of deconditioning is also a huge benefit when thinking about chronic pain. Inactivity may be chosen due to pain, however, graded exercise helps break this cycle by promoting a gradual return to activity, preventing further deconditioning. 

Graded exercise may also positively impact the nervous system through neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to adapt and reorganise itself. Regular, controlled physical activity can contribute to positive changes in the central nervous system, potentially reducing pain sensitivity. 

And finally, while it helps your physical symptoms, it can also help enhance your mood and overall well-being. Exercise stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which can positively influence mood and mental health. This can also lead to a gradual benefit in sleep patterns and in turn, positively impact pain perception and overall quality of life.

Graded exercise should be personalised

It's important to note that graded exercise should be individualised and tailored to each person's abilities and specific condition. It should be implemented under the guidance of healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists or exercise physiologists, who can design a personalised program, monitor progress, and make adjustments as needed. 

Graded exercise may not be suitable for everyone, and the approach should be cautious and considerate of individual pain thresholds. Individuals with chronic pain need to consult with their healthcare providers before starting any exercise program to ensure it is safe and appropriate for their specific condition.