Strength training lowers pain and fatigue in fibromyalgia patients and improves their quality of life, a review states.
The study “A systematic review of the effects of strength training in patients with fibromyalgia: clinical outcomes and design considerations” was published in the journal Advances in Rheumatology.
Fibromyalgia (FM) is characterized by widespread pain in the body, fatigue and sleep disorders. Exercise is recommended to manage its symptoms. However, information about the benefits of including strength training in the exercise regimen of FM patients is limited. Strength training usually employs the use of weights to improve muscle strength.
Researchers from Brazil reassessed the published literature to identify studies that described the use of strength training in FM patients and presented a cumulative view of their findings.
Researchers identified 22 studies that evaluated the strength training as supportive treatment for FM patients. The oldest study published was in 2001, and the most recent paper was from 2017. Most of those studies were conducted in the United States (36%) followed by Finland (23%), Sweden (18%), Brazil (18%) and Turkey (1%). The study participants were all women 18 to 65 years old.
No exercise protocol pertaining to strength training was explicitly defined for fibromyalgia patients in any of the selected published studies. The number of repetitions in each strength training exercise ranged between four and 20.
Strength training sessions were scheduled twice a week in 81.81% of the studies, while 13% scheduled it for three times a week. Only one study evaluated the impact of a single session of strength training. Overall, the training period ranged between three and 21 weeks.
The ability to lift the heaviest weight one can with maximum intensity in one attempt (one-repetition maximum) was the test used most to measure strength. Most studies had patients start with a low intensity of 40% and gradually progressed to 85%.
Overall, the studies showed that strength training alleviated fatigue and anxiety. It lowered the number of pain sensitive areas (tender points) on the body and improved patients’ sleep.
The most evaluated FM symptom was pain. All studies reported a reduction in pain post strength training. One study showed that after 16 weeks of training, pain medication was used only by 41.4% of their strength training group compared to 80% of the control group. Moreover, all studies found that strength training improved patients’ functional ability and quality of life.
Researchers found that among all the studies, depression was the commonly assessed psychological symptom. Strength training markedly lowered depressive symptoms in most of the studies, while one showed no significant difference.
Information regarding adherence to strength training regimens was not provided in the published articles. Based on the patients’ attendance data, the team calculated that 84% of the studies’ participants adhered to strength training.
“The current studies showed that [strength training] is a safe and effective method of improving the major symptoms of FM and can be used to treat patients with this condition,” the team concluded.