No Extra Fibromyalgia Pain with Exercise

Fibromyalgia patients had reduced pain levels after several weeks of moderate exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Some fibromyalgia patients may avoid exercise due to concern that the extra activity could increase pain. Fortunately, the opposite may be true, and exercise may actually help reduce pain. 

A recent study followed a group of fibromyalgia patients for 36 weeks to see if being more physically active would increase or reduce their pain severity.

These patients who increased their physical activity by a few hours per week for 12 weeks or longer reported reduced pain severity.

"Talk to your MD about your exercise regimen. "

Anthony S. Kaleth, PhD, from the Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, led a team of fellow scientists to investigate the effects of moderate exercise on people with fibromyalgia.

According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, the musculoskeletal condition known as fibromyalgia is characterized by aches and pains in a person’s muscles and joints, along with fatigue and trouble with mood, sleep and memory.

Exercise has been recommended for fibromyalgia patients for many years, according to the study authors. But many fibromyalgia patients stop exercising after a few weeks due to complaints about pain and discomfort.

For this study, 170 patients with fibromyalgia were recruited to participate in a 36-week moderate exercise program. Each participant was given an individualized prescription for exercise to suit his or her needs after receiving a physical evaluation.

The exercise prescriptions were designed to increase in intensity and frequency as people got used to exercising over the course of the study. 

Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about their physical activity and pain levels 12, 24 and 36 weeks into the study.

At the start of the study, the participants averaged 1.8 hours per week of exercise and 6.6 hours of activity other than sitting per week.

The minimum recommendation for exercise for adults is 2.5 hours per week and 10 hours of activity other than sitting per week.

After 36 weeks, 16 percent of the participants reported an increase of at least 10 hours of activity per week other than sitting that they sustained for 12 weeks or more.

After 36 weeks, 40 percent of the participants reported the same increase of at least 10 hours per week other than sitting, but said they had not sustained it for 12 weeks or more. The remaining 44 percent of participants had not increased their daily activities.

Both of the groups that reported higher levels of activity also reported improvements in pain severity and reduced fibromyalgia symptoms. The group that sustained physical activity for more than 12 weeks reported a 33 percent reduction in pain severity.

“Increased participation in moderate-vigorous physical activity for at least 12 weeks improves physical function and overall well-being in patients with fibromyalgia,” the authors wrote.

The authors concluded that doing more physical activity was not associated with worsening fibromyalgia-related pain.

A limitation to the study, noted by the authors, was the design of the questionnaire, which grouped activity into long, 12-week periods and could be vulnerable to overestimations and recollection bias.

“Research to support the beneficial effects of physical activity in fibromyalgia continues to mount,” said the study authors.

"I'm a major believer that adding activity and proper exercise can positively affect people of all types," said Jim Crowell, owner and head trainer of Integrated Fitness, a CrossFit training center.

"Adding strength training is a major helper at a muscular and cellular level and those positive changes can really help their health and give them more strength to offset some of that devastating pain that they may face on a daily basis."  

Mr. Crowell was not involved with this study.

This study was published in May in Arthritis Care & Research.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 7, 2013
Last Updated:
October 15, 2013