Gait and balance are severely impaired in women with fibromyalgia, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Moreover, subjective complaints associated with the condition could be contributing to functional disability.
The findings reported in an article “Altered Functional Performance in Patients with Fibromyalgia” suggest that a careful assessment of both physical impairment and psychological response to pain should be conducted in order to offer patients an optimal rehabilitation and fall prevention program.
In order to evaluate gait, functional performance, and balance in women with fibromyalgia, a team of researchers led by Pedro Montoya, PhD, at the Research Institute of Health Sciences, University of the Balearic Islands in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, studied 26 female patients, aged 41-58, as well as 16 pain-free individuals used as controls.
The reason only women were included in this study is that the vast majority (80%-90%) of people affected by fibromyalgia are women.
Participants were asked to perform a series of motor tests, and researchers made video recordings during the performance of the tasks. The women’s gait and balance parameters were analyzed based on the videos.
The team also collected information about the women’s clinical pain levels by using a self-report questionnaire called the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire.
The results showed significant differences in balance and walking speed between fibromyalgia patients and pain-free women. The walking speed was significantly reduced in women with fibromyalgia, compared to women without pain, probably due to the reduction in stride length and frequency.
When the researchers analyzed the association of gait and balance impairment with functional performance and the level of pain, they found that high levels of pain, depression, stiffness, anxiety, and fatigue were the main parameters associated with reduced gait and balance.
Finally, the researchers reported that they observed an abnormal pattern of body sways during balance tasks in fibromyalgia patients. They thought this could be associated with changes in the motor control system, and might explain why fibromyalgia patients experience a higher rate of falls.
Overall, the findings highlighted the relevant role of postural control and balance for daily activity functioning in fibromyalgia patients.
“These findings suggest that optimal rehabilitation and fall prevention in fibromyalgia require a comprehensive assessment of both psychological responses to pain and physical impairments during postural control and gait.” the team concluded, adding that specific activities aimed at improving gait and balance could be included in regular physical intervention programs for fibromyalgia patients.