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Exercise for Fibromyalgia

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Fibromyalgia is a condition that leads to symptoms of widespread pain, fatigue, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome etc. There are other symptoms such as cognitive symptoms, non-restorative sleep etc. that lead to a reduced quality of life.

The prevalence of fibromyalgia in the United States is about 2% with the condition being seven to nine times higher in women than men.

When compared to healthy persons, people with fibromyalgia seem to have severely limited capacity for physical functions. The perceived functional ability and measured physical performance are both low.

Regular exercise is one of the keystones in treatment of fibromyalgia. However, the best exercise regimen of choice depends on several individual patient factors. The most effective type of exercise for example aerobic, strength, flexibility, tai chi, yoga, Pilates, Nordic walking or other along with intensity, duration, and frequency and possible adverse effects are all determined by assessing the individual patient.

Exercise is a structured, planned and repetitive movement of part or whole of the body. IT is performed to improve or maintain one or several parts physical fitness. Physical activity is the same but lacks planning and structure.

There is ample proof that aerobic exercise interventions in fibromyalgia patients can reduce pain, fatigue, and depression and improve the overall quality of life. There have been studies that have shown benefits with aerobic, strength, mixed, and aquatic exercise interventions.

Strength training for example can improve symptoms of pain, and improve physical function. Aquatic exercises however have not been proven to be superior to land based exercises in studies.

Studies have also revealed that increased exercise programs as well as physical activity have a positive effect on pain perception in women with fibromyalgia.

Research thus has shown that persons with fibromyalgia are able to schedule for moderate and even vigorous exercise but may have difficulty in adhering to their exercise regiments especially if the regimen is moderate or high intensity. This is because of the flare up of symptoms.

Thus to ensure long term compliance with the exercise plans, care must be taken to avoid exercise-related pain, musculoskeletal injury and fatigue. This could be achieved by a gradual intensity progression towards moderate intensity exercises.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

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Last Updated: Jul 31, 2013

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