An exercise plan that includes strength training and aerobic activity may help women with the painful disorder fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition marked by widespread muscular and joint pain, as well as specific "tender" points that typically occur in the neck, spine, hips and shoulders. Other symptoms include sleep disturbances and fatigue, depression and irritable bowel syndrome. The condition is seen most often in women of reproductive age.
There is evidence that exercise can help alleviate symptoms. But most of this research has focused on aerobic exercise to boost cardiovascular conditioning, to the exclusion of strength training.
This is in part due to concerns that strength conditioning could exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms or cause injury.
Harvard researchers studied women who completed a 20-week exercise program showed that a mixture of aerobic activity and strength conditioning can in fact improve fibromyalgia symptoms.
The investigators had the women go through a progressive regimen that started with pool exercises to improve their joint movement, then moved on to walking and strengthening exercises with hand weights, machines and the body's own resistance.
After 20 weeks, the women's muscle strength and endurance improved overall -- as did their symptoms of pain, stiffness, fatigue and depression, the researchers report.
These findings demonstrate that an exercise program that includes strength training activities can be safe, feasible, and beneficial for persons with fibromyalgia syndrome.
Arthritis Care and Research 2002;47:22-28