Both Pilates and Water-based Exercise Ease Pain in Fibromyalgia Patients, Study Finds

Both Pilates and Water-based Exercise Ease Pain in Fibromyalgia Patients, Study Finds

Pilates brings benefits similar to water-based exercise for women with fibromyalgia, easing their pain and improving quality of life, according to a clinical trial.

Those findings were described in the study, “Mat Pilates is as effective as aquatic aerobic exercise in treating women with fibromyalgia: a clinical, randomized and blind trial,” published in the journal Advances in Rheumatology.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic widespread pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and psychiatric disorders such as depression, all of which impair quality of life and overall well-being.

Physical exercise has been suggested as an effective approach to manage pain and other symptoms, but evidence mostly supports the practice of aquatic aerobic exercise, which reduces the impact on the joints, improves blood circulation, promotes relaxation, and improves muscle strength — all with minimal impact on the musculoskeletal system.

Mat pilates is another type of exercise that coordinates breathing and movement, thereby improving flexibility, strength, and posture control. Despite its popularity and wide recommendation, few studies have investigated this method in fibromyalgia patients.

Notably, a recent study comparing tai chi with aerobic exercise suggested that mind-body exercises are more effective at managing symptoms of fibromyalgia. This led a team in Brazil to hypothesize that pilates, which also entails mind-body exercises, would bring more benefits to patients than aquatic aerobic exercise.

To address this question, the team designed a clinical trial (NCT03149198) with 42 women who were assigned randomly to mat pilates or aquatic aerobic exercise sessions, given twice a week for 12 weeks. Average age of participants was 45.5 in the group on pilates, and 50.7 in women performing aquatic exercises.

Mat pilates sessions lasted about 50 minutes and included a set of nine exercises covering the main muscle groups. The number of sets increased each month.

Aquatic aerobic exercise sessions were conducted in a swimming pool for about 40 minutes. After two warm-up exercises, participants performed a series of six main exercises with different intensities (such as extending a leg sideways underwater with arms open), followed by two cool-down exercises. When possible, the speed of exercises was increased in each session.

Participants in each group were assessed for measures of pain, functional status, quality of life, sleep quality, fear avoidance, and catastrophic thoughts about pain (making exaggerated and fearful appraisals of pain) — both before initiating the exercise sessions and after the three-month program.

Three women dropped out of the pilates sessions, and two others from the aquatic aerobic sessions; still, the team examined the total group first included in the study.

Results demonstrated that both pilates and aquatic sessions significantly improved disease-related quality of life and eased pain.

Pilates also improved areas of overall quality of life, such as vitality, functional capacity, and reduced pain and both fear and avoidance of physical activities. In turn, aquatic sessions improved sleep quality and reduced catastrophic thoughts on pain.

Overall, “the mat Pilates method and the aquatic aerobic exercise in the present study were effective as a form of treatment for 12 weeks for women with fibromyalgia, promoting improvement in pain and quality of life,” the researchers wrote.

Notably, the team found no significant differences between pilates and aquatic aerobic sessions, suggesting that “one modality does not overlap with the other,” they added.

“Fibromyalgia patients may have the option of choosing mat Pilates or aquatic aerobic exercise to improve [ease] their symptoms,” the team concluded.