Fibromyalgia and resistance exercise have often been considered an impossible combination; however, with proper adjustments, it could actually help female patients achieve considerable health improvements, a Swedish researcher reports in her dissertation.
The work is titled “Muscle strength and resistance exercise in women with fibromyalgia — a person-centered approach,” defended and approved this month.
As part of her doctoral investigations carried out at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Anette Larsson studied 130 women ages 20-65 with fibromyalgia, a disease that affects women more than men.
About half of the women in her study (67) were randomly selected to undergo a program of person-centered, progressive resistance exercise led by a physical therapist.
The remaining 63 women were assigned to a control group and underwent more traditional therapy approaches with relaxation exercises. The study lasted 15 weeks and sessions of training and exercise were held twice a week.
“If the goal for these women is to improve their strength, then they shouldn’t be afraid to exercise, but they need to exercise the right way,” Larsson said in a University of Gothenburg news story by Margareta Gustafsson Kubista.
“It has long been said that they will only experience more pain as a result of resistance exercise and that it doesn’t work. But in fact, it does,” Larsson added.
Resistance exercises are designed to get the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of an increase in strength, tone, muscle mass and/or endurance.
The external resistance can be dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, your own body weight, bricks and bottles of water, or any other object that causes the muscles to contract.
“The women who did resistance exercise began at very light weights, which were determined individually for each participant because they have highly varying levels of strength. We began at 40 percent of the max and then remained at that level for three to four weeks before increasing to 60 percent,” Larsson said.
More than six in 10 women were able to reach a level of exercise at 80 percent of their maximum strength. One of the 10 was at 60 percent, and the remaining women were below those values. Five women decided to stop the training due to increased pain.
Overall, the group had an attendance rate of 71 percent at the exercise sessions.
The treatment group showed significant improvements. The patients felt better, improved their muscle strength, felt decreased pain and had more tolerance to it.
Quality of life improved and the women felt less limited toward activities. However, “some of the women did not manage the exercise and became worse, which is also an important part of the findings,” Larsson said.
In the control group, improvements were not as significant, even though hand and arm strength improved. This might be explained by the relaxation exercises, which might have led to reduced muscle tension in the arms and shoulders, allowing the participants to become stronger.
Findings for the women in the resistance training group are affected by several factors, including the degree of pain and fear of movement before and during the exercise period. Progress for the group as a whole can largely be attributed to the person-centered approach, which included personally-adjusted exercises and support from a physical therapist.
“An interview study we conducted shows clearly that the women need support to be able to choose the right exercises and the right loads; they also need help when pain increases,” Larsson said. “This requires, quite simply, support from someone who knows their disease, preferably a physical therapist.”