A study was recently published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, showing that exercise and an associated greater fitness level leads to a decrease in symptom severity for female patients with Fibromyalgia (FM). The study, entitled, “The association of physical fitness with fibromyalgia severity in women: The al-Ándalus project,” was conducted by an international group of collaborating researchers from Spain and Denmark.
FM is a chronic condition associated with widespread pain in muscles and joints, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbance, fatigue and
even psychological distress. According to the CDC, FM affects approximately 2% to 5% of the US population, predominately women (Female to Male 7:1) and the majority are diagnosed as unknown etiology (cause). Many physicians will prescribe exercise as a therapeutic modality for FM sufferers, but there has been very little research done to study the benefits of increased physical activity for patients.
The researchers assessed the relationship between physical fitness and FM severity in 444 women who were previously diagnosed with FM by a rheumatologist. The study included 2 days of assessment that consisted of:
- On day 1: patients were evaluated to confirm FM diagnosis as well as administration of a sociodemographic questionnaire, and assessment of body composition plus BMI. FM symptom severity was also assessed using the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQR).
- On day 2: a series of physical fitness tests were administered to develop a global fitness profile for each patient that included:
- Functional Senior Fitness test: consisting of lower-body strength assessment by a 30-second chair stand test; upper-body strength assessed by an arm-curl; motor agility was assessed with an “8 feet up and go” test, and aerobic fitness was assessed with a 6-minute walk test.
- Handgrip strength test: determined with a digital dynamometer (is a device for measuring force, torque, or power).
- Flexibility test: measured with a chair sit-and-reach test and a back scratch test.
The study findings showed that higher levels of physical fitness were significantly associated with lower FIQR scores for every fitness test administered to the patients. Also, patients with the highest levels of fitness showed lower FM symptoms severity when compared to patients with the lowest level of physical fitness.
For FM patients and their healthcare providers, these results provide important evidence of the precise benefits that exercise and increased physical activity can offer in regards to lessening FM symptom severity.