Exercise Helps Reduce Chronic Pain of Fibromyalgia

By Pat Anson, Editor

This is the time of year when people start thinking of New Year’s resolutions – and losing weight and getting more exercise are two of the most common ones. New research suggests fibromyalgia sufferers should consider them both to relieve pain and improve their quality of life.

Exercise is known to relieve some types of chronic pain, but researchers at the University of Granada in Spain wanted to know what types of fitness are most effective in decreasing pain and improving mood in fibromyalgia patients. Fibromyalgia (FM) is a poorly understood disorder that is characterized by deep tissue pain, fatigue, depression and insomnia.

Researchers enrolled 468 female fibromyalgia patients in the study to assess their aerobic fitness, muscle strength, flexibility and motor ability. The study, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, also used a scale to quantify the women’s emotional response to chronic pain, such as catastrophizing (viewing something worse than it actually is) and self-efficacy (belief in the capacity to control things).

“Overall, higher physical fitness was consistently associated with lower levels of pain, lower pain-related catastrophizing, and higher chronic pain self-efficacy,” the researchers found.

Women with high muscle strength and high flexibility had the lowest levels of pain; and those with high flexibility and aerobic fitness had the best catastrophizing and self-efficacy profiles.

Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, found that fibromyalgia patients were more likely to exercise less, be overweight, depressed, and take more medications.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic enrolled over 300 fibromyalgia patients in the study and collected detailed information about their demographic, socioeconomic, clinical, medical, surgical, and psychiatric history.

Nearly three quarters of the participants were either overweight or obese, as defined by the World Health Organization’s BMI (body mass index). Less than 10% of the obese patients said they performed regular aerobic exercise.

Obese patients were also significantly more likely to suffer from major depression and to be taking multiple medications.

“Compared with normal-weight patients, obese FM patients in our study were taking more medications for FM, including SSRIs, other antidepressants, and antipsychotic drugs, as well as gabapentinoids (Lyrica and Neurontin), all known to potentially cause weight gain,” the researchers found.

Interestingly, overweight and obese patients were also more likely to have a history of physical and sexual abuse than normal weight FM patients (48% vs. 34%).

The authors recommend that physicians treating overweight FM patients advise them to lose weight and exercise more.