Treating Fibromyalgia with Exercise

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that predominantly affects women. Eighty to ninety percent of diagnosed patients with fibromyalgia are women, and it is common for fibromyalgia to be diagnosed during middle age. The syndrome causes mild to severe pain in areas of soft tissue called tender points that can be found all over the body, along with other symptoms such as fatigue and stiffness. Although there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, there are many treatment options to help relieve symptoms. Due to the cause of fibromyalgia being unknown, the individual effectiveness of each type of treatment can vary greatly.

Treatment ranges from exercise and different types of physical therapy, medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy, to simpler methods such as relaxation techniques. Many of the treatments have the purpose of relieving symptoms that come with the pain such as loss of sleep and stress. For this reason, alternative therapies can be helpful to certain individuals. Many treatments provide improvement to a patient’s overall quality of life, but very few single treatments have been studied or scientifically proven effective for the pain itself. Exercise and physical therapy have become a popular treatment for fibromyalgia, and over the past 25 years, the effect exercise has on patients has been increasingly studied.

In 2008, a study was done at the University Pablo de Olavide in Spain, evaluating the effectiveness of aquatic physical therapy on patients with fibromyalgia. The study was done with 60 middle aged women. The test involved aerobic and strength training as well as relaxation exercises in a chest-high pool of warm water three times a week for 16 weeks. The result of the study showed improvements in the tender point count, health, sleep, and cognitive function. Other studies have suggested that heat combined with exercise may also reduce pain. A more recent study at Kagoshima University in Japan paired sauna therapy and exercises in water, and examined the effect on 44 female patients for 12 weeks. The patients participated in sauna therapy three days per week and did underwater exercise two days per week. All of the patients reported reductions in pain from 31 to 77 percent. These studies suggest that heat as well as exercise can provide relief for many fibromyalgia symptoms.

Non-aquatic exercise or physical therapy can also be beneficial to fibromyalgia symptoms. A physical therapist can help create an exercise program to help improve symptoms, and can provide other services such as heat therapy or deep massage. Generally it is recommended for patients to get 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise consistently about three times a week, and to gradually build up to a moderate level of exercise. Samples of good aerobic exercises are walking, bicycling, and swimming. Moderation is very important for an exercise routine, because an exercise routine that is too strenuous may worsen symptoms, while too little exercise will create few or no improvements.

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