Exercise Benefits Fibromyalgia Patients

Fibromyalgia reduced with exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When you're in the midst of a hard workout, your focus narrows, and you don't think about anything else. Pain fades into the background as you get into the zone.

That's the logic behind a new study that transitioned fibromyalgia patients off pain medication and onto an exercise regimen. The researchers found that after exercise, patients had improved memory, and felt less pain. The research suggests that exercise makes the brain work more efficiently.

"Ask your doctor about exercising with fibromyalgia."

Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome in which a person experiences widespread pain and tenderness at joints. It affects 5 million people in the US, and is more common among women. It has no apparent cause, but the pain is real. It's likely produced by the central nervous system, according to study author Dr. Brian Walitt.

Previous studies have showed that fibromyalgia patients have memory impairments. Exercise has been connected with improvements in cognitive function, tenderness, and disabilities associated with the condition. Dr. Walitt's study aimed to determine if exercise could improve working memory – the type of memory needed for reasoning, comprehension, and learning.

Dr. Walitt led a small study with 18 female fibromyalgia patients. Half of the group went off their pain medications to transition to an exercise-based treatment. For six weeks, they had a “washout period,” or no treatment, and then began an exercise regimen. Their progress and changes were monitored by fMRI scans and questionnaires.

The fMRI provided a scientific measurement of cognitive functioning. After six weeks with no medication or treatment, memory and pain worsened. But after six weeks of exercise, the patients reported feeling better. They did better on memory tests, but brain activity in the areas that process memory and pain decreased.

Dr. Walitt takes those results to mean that the brain is working more efficiently, and spending less energy on processing pain. He said that more research is needed before any clinical changes in the way fibromyalgia patients are treated can be suggested.

The study was presented at the Society of Neuroscience’s annual meeting in November 2011.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 14, 2011
Last Updated:
November 15, 2011