By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Exercise is one of the most important measures to deal with widespread pain conditions like fibromyalgia. With extreme fatigue, it may be difficult for most persons to exercise.
However, an exercise programme specifically suited to the patient’s needs and requirements may help. Exercises include strengthening exercises and aerobic exercises.
Aerobic activities are moderate-intensity exercises that use the large muscles and increase the cardiovascular functioning and breathing.
Examples include swimming, cycling and walking.
Strengthening exercises focus on specific muscle groups and include lifting weights etc.
Moderate-intensity and high-intensity aerobic exercise
There have been several studies analyzing moderate-intensity to high-intensity aerobic exercise by means of cycling, dance, or whole-body exercise for patients with fibromyalgia.
Results have consistently shown improvements in aerobic capacity, improvement in tender point pain threshold, reduction in pain rating in the exercise programs and global well-being among patients who exercised three times a week over a period of 20 weeks.
When looking at high-intensity aerobic exercise, it was noted from studies that not all patients were able to take upon the intensity of the exercise owing to their limitations, fatigue and pain.
Recommendations thus suggest that exercise in fibromyalgia produces the best benefits when the program is individually tailored to the patient’s original function, severity of symptoms and level of tolerance of exercise-induced pain.
For example, among sedentary women with fibromyalgia aerobic exercise divided into short bouts is more beneficial compared to long bouts of aerobic exercise.
Walking is a form of aerobic exercise that may be performed at varying intensities, and therefore is a good exercise option for patients with fibromyalgia who are unable to participate in high intensity aerobic exercise programs.
Primary walking in the exercise programs has shown improvements in physical function, tender point status, self-efficacy, well-being and overall quality of life.
Aerobics in water or pool exercises are a common therapeutic modality used in patients with rheumatic diseases. Temperate pool water has been found to reduce the stiffness and ease the pain.
Water in addition also provides the resistance required in aerobic and strengthening exercises.
Pool exercises also benefit patients with fibromyalgia. At 6 months, patients with fibromyalgia show better aerobic performance capacity and improvement on symptoms.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Jul 31, 2013