Health And Lifestyle For The Over 50s

How Effective Is Exercise In Managing Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia words (2)

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread muscular pain accompanied by fatigue, weakness and disturbed sleep. It is not life-threatening or progressive but it can still have a major impact on your quality of life.

People with fibromyalgia often look well even when they are in a lot of pain. As a result, other people may not understand the pain and tiredness you are experiencing. Even though fibromyalgia is frequently referred to as an arthritis-related condition, it does not cause joint damage or inflammation as arthritis does.

However, it is similar to arthritis in that it causes severe pain and tiredness, and can undermine your ability to go about your daily activities.

New studies have found that exercise, and in particular, walking and swimming, are especially beneficial in the management of the condition. We will take a look at the details but first……

What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?

  • Widespread pain
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Irritability, feeling weepy & low
  • Headaches
  • Poor concentration or forgetfulness
  • Sleep disorders
  • Increased sensitivity to heat or cold, sound, knocks & bumps
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Fibromyalgia Woman

What causes fibromyalgia?

The exact causes are not known but anxiety, physical and/or mental trauma, and sleep disturbance are thought to play a part. Possible causal factors currently include:

  • A stressful, traumatic physical or emotional event
  • Repetitive injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Problems with the central nervous system
  • The way our genes regulate how we process painful stimuli

How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?

A patient may visit their GP a number of times before a proper diagnosis is made & the doctor will need to rule out a number of other conditions. The fact that there are no diagnostic laboratory tests for the condition can be frustrating for doctors and patients. The general criteria used to make the diagnosis include:

  • A history of widespread pain which has lasted over three months.
  • The presence of tender points in 18 sites of the body. These sites are located at the back & front of the neck, between the neck & chest, just below the neck on the back, the knees, the inside of the elbows, above and below the buttocks & the top of the thighs.

What is the treatment for fibromyalgia?

Each patient is different and will require individualized treatment which may include some or all of the following:

  • An active exercise programme
  • Low dose anti-depressants
  • Massage
  • Physiotherapy
  • Painkillers such as paracetamol, ibubrofen or gabapentin
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy
  • Acupuncture

Self-help and daily living for fibromyalgia

You could try the following to help ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia:

  • Take regular exercise such as swimming, walking or cycling
  • Pace your daily activities
  • Talk to other sufferers to share your experiences – follow the links below for more help and advice
  • Try to resolve any stressful situations at home or at work
  • Eat a balanced diet and keep to a healthy weight
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime


Try to find which of these treatments and self help strategies help to ease your symptoms and improve the daily quality of your life.

Recent studies

In a paper published in the British Medical Journal, a group from 12 countries, called the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), reviewed almost 3,000 studies into the management of fibromyalgia. They concluded that the only “strong for” therapy based recommendation was exercise. Management of the condition should educate patients to include exercise wherever possible, particularly given its effect on pain, physical function and well-being, availability, relatively low cost and lack of safety concerns.

EULAR also noted that “weak for” therapies such as psychological therapies, acupuncture, mindfulness and hydrotherapy had a place, as they improved pain and quality of life. They also stated that pharmacological therapies (“weak for”) should be considered for those with severe pain or sleep disturbance. They warned against chiropractic remedies based on safety concerns. In conclusion they recommended individualised treatment according to patient need.

In another study performed by researchers at the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, swimming was found to be as effective as walking to relieve pain and improve the quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia.

The clinical study involved 75 sedentary women aged between 18 and 60 years who suffered from fibromyalgia. They were divided into a walking group and a swimming group. Both groups underwent 50 minute sessions three times a week for 12 weeks. They were then assessed for pain intensity and quality of life.

Pain intensity fell from 6.2 to 3.6 on average in the walking group and from 6.4 to 3.1 in the swimming group. This is considered to be clinically significant. There were also statistically significant improvements in both groups with regards their quality of life. The team therefore concluded that this form of physical exercise is an essential component of any treatment for fibromyalgia.

Finally, you may be interested in our earlier article about other recent developments into the treatment of fibromyalgia. To read it please click on the following link:

New Research into the Diagnosis and Treatment of Fibromyalgia

Follow the link below for more help and advice from the charity Fibromyalgia Action UK:

Finally if you would like regular updates on issues such as fibromyalgia, please don’t hesitate to follow us on Facebook.

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