Fibromyalgia Pain, Functional Impairment Eased by Exercises Like Swimming and Walking

Fibromyalgia Pain, Functional Impairment Eased by Exercises Like Swimming and Walking

Swimming and walking have similar beneficial effects in fibromyalgia (FM) female patients, improving functional capacity and quality of life and reducing pain, according to a study, “Swimming Improves Pain and Functional Capacity of Patients with Fibromyalgia: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” published in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Fibromyalgia is chronic disease characterized by widespread pain, and reduced muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. Physical exercise is often recommended due to its effectiveness in reducing FM symptoms that are usually insufficiently controlled by pharmacological treatment.

Aquatic exercises have been shown to exert positive effects on mental, emotional and physical health, improving muscle strength and functional capacity — or the ability to perform meaningful daily activities — while reducing pain. Swimming, particularly, has proven beneficial in patients with chronic pain, but its effects in FM patients had not been studied thus far.

Researchers analyzed the rehabilitation of FM patients who underwent 50 minutes of swimming for 12 weeks, three times a week, focusing on pain, and also on aerobic capacity, functional capacity, and quality of life, compared to patients who engaged in a walking program with the same duration and frequency. A total of 75 women with fibromyalgia (ages 18 to 60) participated in the study and were randomly assigned to two different groups: a swimming group with 39 subjects and a 36-patient walking group. Each group was evaluated based on the Visual Analog Scale (VAS) for pain, the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) and Medical Outcome Survey Short Form 36 (SF-36) for quality of life, the spiroergometric test for cardiorespiratory variables, and Time Up-and-Go Test (TUGT) for functional capacity. All participants were evaluated at baseline, six weeks, and 12 weeks after the beginning of the exercise protocols.

Results revealed that both groups exhibited significant improvements in pain, and in quality of life and functional capacity after the 12-week program, as denoted by the VAS, FIQ and SF-36, and TUGT scores. Both swimming and walking also produced “discrete” improvements in the cardiorespiratory capacity of the participants, but the improvements here were not statistically significant.

These findings suggest that swimming, like walking, is a positive low-cost, easy-to-administer intervention for FM patients that significantly enhances the quality of life and functional capacity of these patients while reducing pain.

— Inês Martins, PhD