Doing regular breathing exercises at home is as safe and effective for relieving fibromyalgia (FM) pain and reducing the disease’s impact on daily life as doing the same exercises in supervised sessions, a study shows.
However, when considering at-home practice, it is important to provide training and guidance, such as a through a DVD, and regularly check compliance to ensure patients keep exercising.
The findings, “Non-supervised breathing exercise regimen in women with fibromyalgia: A quasi-experimental exploratory study,” were published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
Current guidelines by the European League Against Rheumatism state that the only “strong for” therapy-based recommendation for FM is exercise, given its effect on pain, physical function, and well-being, as well as its availability, relatively low cost, and safety.
The benefits of breathing exercises have been evaluated in the context of meditative movement therapies, such as tai chi, qigong, or multi-exercise programs, performed under supervision.
These activities were shown to alleviate the pain of FM and improve patients’ physical and mental health and quality of life.
Some studies provide evidence that home-based exercises, as long as they have been checked by a specialist, are as useful to combat pain and other FM symptoms.
Instead of having to attend a class or individual session, learning the exercises with a specialist and then doing them at home could be more practical and comfortable for patients.
A team led by researchers at Portugal’s University of Évora sought to understand whether a non-supervised, at-home program of breathing exercises offers the same benefits in pain alleviation and FM impact as a supervised regimen.
Forty-three women with fibromyalgia completed the study. They were assigned to one of three groups: 15 on a 12-week supervised breathing exercise program; 13 on an equivalent program, but practiced at home and without supervision; and 15 not doing the breathing exercises (control group).
The breathing exercise program was the same used in an earlier pilot trial, carried out by the same team, to improve pain tolerance in women with fibromyalgia.
Each session took 30 minutes and focused on exercises to strengthen and lengthen the muscles of the thorax and abdomen.
In the supervised group, women did one daily session for 12 weeks (one class per week, supervised by a qualified instructor, and six sessions per week done at home guided by a DVD).
Those in the non-supervised group completed a similar 12-week program consisting of the same breathing exercises. But in the first session, an instructor taught them all the exercises. All other daily sessions were done at home, guided by a DVD. These patients were also telephoned once a week to check their performance and encourage them.
The effects of each modality were measured in terms of pain tolerance at several tender points (trunk and neck) and impact on daily life, using the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire.
Researchers saw that after 12 weeks of breathing exercises, there were no significant differences between supervised and non-supervised programs, either in pain tolerance or FM’s impact on daily life.
However, there was a slight tendency of the supervised regimen to show additional benefits in alleviating the impact of pain.
“It may be therefore considered that breathing exercises carried out under non-supervised regimen could be effective and safe for FM patients, and that such exercises may foster patients’ self-management,” the researchers said.
Researchers note, however, that non-supervised exercise regimens can make it difficult to guarantee patient compliance.
“In this sense, in order for a program of non-supervised exercise regime to be successful and that there is no high rate of withdrawal, an adequate motivational work must be carried out with patients,” they said.
The use of a DVD to guide exercises and regular checks to confirm adherence to the program, as done in this study, could be effective.
“If there is regular attendance and control, even if it is not in-person, non-supervised exercise regime can be effective, as observed in our study, in which the participants reported high levels of exercise compliance,” the team stated.
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