A new study suggests that small increases in everyday activities like gardening, housework or even taking stairs instead of an elevator, can improve pain and increase function in people with fibromyalgia.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore split 84 people with fibromyalgia who were inactive to two groups: one that was asked to attend fibromyalgia education classes, and another that was assigned to engage in 30 minutes of what they called ‘lifestyle physical activities’ on five to seven days of the week for 12 weeks.
They defined lifestyle physical activities as everyday activities like vacuuming, walking or scrubbing the shower.
Participants were told the proper intensity level for these activities would cause them to breathe a little heavier but would still allow them to carry on a conversation and that the 30 minutes could be spread throughout the day, rather than accomplished all at once.
Researchers relied on a questionnaire that allowed participants to report their results. At the end of 12 weeks, participants said they did not experience differences in terms of fatigue or depression. But those doing lifestyle activities did perceive that they had less pain and were functioning better than those who were only getting education and support.
The study was published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy.
“To me, the big news is that getting people with fibromyalgia just to do a little more physical activity can reap benefits,” says Kevin Fontaine, PhD, the lead author and an associate professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Anything is better than nothing, and our hope is as people do short bursts of activity perhaps they start to feel better and can start to transition to exercise.”
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain and tenderness all over the body. The condition affects an estimated 2 percent of Americans, and is more common in women than in men. Exercise has been shown to relieve many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, which include body pain, fatigue, sleep disruption, headaches, problems with memory and concentration, mood disturbances and irritable bowel syndrome.
But many with fibromyalgia find it difficult or impossible to exercise because they are in such pain and their physical abilities can be so limited.
“The nature of the disease with the pain and fatigue makes it difficult to stick to a traditional program. So start with this and some may be able to transition to traditional exercise, but to those who can’t, this does seem to be an alternative that is beneficial,” Fontaine says.
Dr Theodore Fields is a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. He says this study is interesting because a combination of fatigue, pain or muscle strain often makes it difficult for fibromyalgia patients to consistently exercise and he says it will help patients to learn there could be more manageable options for them.
“If increasing lifestyle physical activity is successful in improving the pain and perceived physical function in fibromyalgia patients, then it is something we could prescribe and which patients are likely to follow up with,” Dr. Fields says.
Dr. Fields says this research is of interest, but he says this kind of study does have limitations.
“Patients may overestimate their amount and intensity of activity if it is not observed,” Dr. Fields says. “However, if the results of this pilot questionnaire study hold up in further studies, if patients repeatedly describe decreased pain and increased function, this is important.”
Source: Arthritis Today