Fibromyalgia is a painful muscular condition characterized by generalized back and muscle pain, and specific tender points around the body. The condition affects women nearly eight times more than men of the same age. Because there is no known anatomical cause for the condition, treatments often focus on therapeutic modalities including massage or gentle aerobics; however, physical activity can often be limited due to symptoms of the condition.
A new body of research presented in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy suggests that patients who undertake "Lifestyle Physical Activity" (LPA) experience significant reductions in perceived disability and pain, and are also able to move more easily throughout the day. This study was led by Kevin Fontaine from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Researchers studied a group of 84 fibromyalgia patients to investigate the effects of 30 minutes of LPA five to seven days a week. Participants were also instructed on other lifestyle strategies designed to aid in fibromyalgia management, including how to deal with symptom flares. Outcomes were examined in relation to physical function, pain, and other measures of disability.
LPA involves moderate-intensity physical activity that is centered on everyday activities such as taking the stairs, gardening, or doing household chores. Participants were instructed to engage in enough activity to cause heavy breathing, but not so heavy that they were unable to hold a conversation. At the conclusion of the study, LPA participants increased their average number of daily steps taken by 54%, and also reported a significant decrease in perceived functional deficits as well as less pain.
The common symptoms of fibromyalgia, including fatigue, stiff joints, headaches, or numbness of the hands and feet, can make traditional exercise difficult as patients struggle with the physical pain as well as the exhaustion. Given the study findings, LPA programs may help fibromyalgia patients maintain a functional level of physical activity that also helps manage or even improve symptoms.