Gait, Balance Severely Impaired in Female Fibromyalgia Patients, Study Shows

Gait, Balance Severely Impaired in Female Fibromyalgia Patients, Study Shows

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.

22 comments

  1. Dianne says:

    Thank you for the article. I was diagnosed in 1986 and have always had gait problems. Following 2 hospitalizations 6 and 9 years ago, I underwent PT for strengthening the core and gait training. The gait training served me well both times. I am vigilant when I walk and use steps and especially on curbs. I am 66 yrs old.

  2. Dianne Wilber says:

    Now I know why I have fallen so many times ! I`ve had Fibromyalgia for 33 years + in the 90`s ,I fell about 7 times !Seemed like for no apparent reason . Since then my balance has gotten worse , but I`m very careful + haven`t fallen but 1 time.

  3. Denise Bault says:

    I am always amazed when I find myself “off balanced.” It could be upon rising from bed or any time during the day. (Yet I can still ride a bicycle with no hands, which I learned to do as a kid!) I took a header the other day trying to outwit my cat – first mistake – and she outwitted me! Practically dove into a wall. I also find myself running into dressers and other objects that are clearly not in my way. Very odd. Sometimes it feels like I’m suddenly on a rocking boat, but only for a second. Just another fun symptom? I’m curious to know what rehab activities the article says “could be included in regular physical intervention programs for fibromyalgia patients.” Didn’t know there were intervention programs! And I’ve been through physical therapy at least 3 different times…with 3 different therapists. Anyone know about these?

    • Joan says:

      They are talking about fall prevention intervention programs which can be done by any physical therapy program. I was in continuous physical therapy for over 10 years when I lived in NY but I also have arthritis. I found that the aqua physical therapy program was the most beneficial for my walking and gait problems. I, also took advantage of the Arthritis Association water classes which were inexpensive and cheaper than my co-pay for physical therapy. Now that I live in a retirement community, I take advantage of the water classes at the clubhouse.

      • Denise Bault says:

        Joan, I have been swimming for the last 4 years…am lucky to live in a warm climate where I have daily access to a heated salt water pool. Am positive it has kept me from being fully bedridden and highly suggest it to all! Not only does it help with the fibro, it is helpful for my joints, gives me aerobic exercise, decreases the depression and gives me vitamin D. Added benefits are nicer looking legs, and a smaller bum than I had before!

    • Paula Haakenson says:

      Didn’t know about this. I , too, feel like for a second or two am on a rocky boat and I have bruises from walking into a corner of the dresser that I didn’t need to hit. Have been working on core strength.
      Find my gait has slowed.

  4. LINDA MCCORMICK says:

    Can hardly walk at all. Rode horses all my life and was a good walker – grocery store is hard – have disabled sticker on car but I walk with cane and still do not feel balanced. Doctors mentioned Parkinsons maybe – anybody out there have the same situation?

    • Gina-Dee Celestre says:

      I use a cane almost all the time now. I’m tired of falling or banging into something. It hurts! I have been to numerous neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, etc. & have been cleared of MS or Parkinsons Disease. It’s just another evil of fibromyalgia. Falls in the shower were expecially painful. For Valentines this year my husband installed a hand rail in the shower. I’m 53 years young.

  5. Dewanda May says:

    I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in1989 but now I have muscles and nerves moving in my head my head takes on a different form. Does anyone else have this problem?

    • Laurelyn Southworth says:

      Yes, Dewanda, I also have occasions when my head takes on a different form…kind of like a short”spell” of being out of it. I sure would like to understand what this is and what it means as well as how to prevent it!!

    • Cindy birdwise says:

      Yes and i can feel my bones pulled open in my forehead and that pain is weird. My jaw goes out of place whicj stop me from eating and speaking..

  6. Christine Hughes says:

    Yes!! So glad to read this report. I had thought I’d got yet something else wrong with me! My grown up daughters are always complaining that I walk so slow, yet I go as fast as I can and have noticed that my stride is so much shorter than it used to be. I also often find I lose my balance, when walking! I hadn’t put it down to Fibro, which I was diagnosed with 12 months ago. I think I’ve had Fibro since the birth of my eldest daughter 24 years ago.

  7. Em says:

    This one I can identify with as I stumble about like an inebriated woman. Trying to explain-pointless. Solution: Stay home and know NOT to ask for help because of accusations. Sad that even my own children are only waiting for me to die so there will be more money. I surely did not raise them this way!!!!

    Not self-pity rather my reality.

  8. Judy Ohanian says:

    I have had FM since 2000 and have balance problems,I also have quick moments of feeling like I’m on a rocking boat and bump into objects, glad to know I’m not alone. I also have brain buzzes and vibrations usually associated with nerve pain like quick bee stings or sudden itch. Anyone have that happen to them?

      • Joan says:

        Yes but I also have a neurological disease. My doctor put me on a strict diet to eliminate foods that stimulate or damage the nerve endings. I am much improved as well as medication. I have eliminated sugar and processed foods and grains and I am following a strict for of the Paleo diet for 3 years now. Also started using essential oils to help with sleep and rest.

  9. Omg I can’t believe that this article as just appeared in my emails. I have been going to my doctors for at least 6months with worsening balance issues I can’t walk without looking like I am drunk I walk into furniture and people, fall over very easily get sudden pains in my head like being zapped recently had MRI Scan of head, but I would never have thought it could be something to do with Fibromyalgia which I have had for 18years. Thank you for this info. Lorraine

    • Em says:

      Have experienced such and it is painfully embarrassing. Have even been subjected to blowing into a tube and blood work.

      Be brave Lorraine-fibro wears many masks.

  10. Sandra says:

    I’m sorry but…”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.” Careful Assessment? Psychological response to pain? Unless you have Cadillac Insurance or are Rich out the whazzo, Who’s doc has enough time with you or is educated enough or cares enough to do all of this? You’re lucky if you cross their mind even remotely the moment they are out that door and on to the next patient. I have had Fibro for 20+ years and have been a fall risk for all of those. Not once have any of my docs or physical therapists or anybody else during this time done any ‘assessment’ about it at all. Use a cane. Fact is nobody cares but us. (And no, that is not a bad attitude. It is the truth.)

  11. Camille C Barr says:

    I see no mention of Low Dose Naltrexone (4.5mg) here. My pain mgmnt doc (a DO) diagnosed me with fibro several months ago and gave me a prescription for this drug, which must be compounded. With a script, it can be ordered at a specialty pharmacy online for less and the cost is reasonable for a compounded drug. There is an App for an LDN radio show as well as LDN latest research news website. It cannot be taken with narcotics, so going off Tramadol was required a week before starting LDN. Only a few docs know about it. Do the research and find one in your area if you want to try the drug. NO SIDE EFFECTS …

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