Fibromyalgia – The Latest on Exercise!

Exercise therapies have been identified as one of the most effective forms of treatment for Fibromyalgia (FM). Unfortunately, in a study of 121 newly diagnosed FM patient files, less than half included an exercise recommendation. This statistic is alarming! This month’s article will focus on recent FM studies supporting the benefits of exercise.

The first study looked at the immediate effects of a 6-mo. combined exercise program and its impact on quality-of-life, physical function, depression, and aerobic capacity in 41 FM females. Also, it studied the impact of starting and stopping the program. A group of 21 women were placed into the exercise group and 20 into the control group. Questionnaires and a physical fitness screen were used to measure the outcome or benefits of the program vs. no intervention at baseline (initial), and after 6 months of exercise training followed by 6 months of no exercise training over a 30 month timeframe. Results highly favored the exercise training group over the control group in all parameters both during the exercise training (immediate effects) and during the no exercise 6 month time frames (long-term benefits).

A Chicago-based pilot (small-scaled) study evaluated the use of aerobic conditioning (VO2 max.) on 26 FM subjects at baseline and after a 12-week home-based aerobic exercise program. The exercises included a 30 minute program at 80% of the maximum heart rate, and also measured pain, disability, depression and stress. Results showed those who successfully completed the 12-week program demonstrated an increase in aerobic conditioning, and a trend towards less pain, disability and stress reduction. Those who were unable or unwilling to participate had significantly higher pain, disability and a trend toward more depression at baseline vs. those that completed the program. The conclusions suggest aerobic exercises benefits the FM patient’s quality of life and, VO2 max is a useful marker for measuring exercise benefits. Also, those scoring initially high in the pain, disability, depression/stress measures were more likely to fail and may benefit from a more comprehensive guided program.

Another study looked at the effects of a 3x/week, 16-week exercise program in a chest-high pool of warm water measuring global symptoms and exercise adherence (compliance) levels. A group of 60 middle-aged FM women were compared to 20 healthy, similarly age matched females before and after a 16 week aquatic exercise program that included strength training, aerobic training and relaxation exercises. Tender point count, health status, sleep quality, physical endurance, psychologic and cognitive function were measured and, compliance at 12-months was studied. Again, the results revealed statistical improvement in most of the parameters tested in the FM exercise group and, 23 of the 60 were still exercising at 12 months. Again, the conclusions favor the need for exercises in the management of FM.

As noted in the initial paragraph, in spite of all the positive research support for including exercise training in FM patients, less than half of newly diagnosed FM suffers are given exercises as part of their treatment plan. The need for exercises to be part of the FM treatment plan is clear, and training needs to be initially structured to enhance compliance.