Exercise is an important part of managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Studies since the 1970s have shown that exercise can benefit patients. Staying physically active can relieve pain, stress, and anxiety. A key question left unanswered was the benefits of specific types of exercise.
Researchers at the University of São Paulo show that stretching improves patients’ physical functioning and quality of life, while resistance training helps combat depression, “Muscle stretching exercises and resistance training in fibromyalgia: which is better? A three-arm randomized controlled trial” published in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.
Because movement can increase fibromyalgia’s pain, many patients develop an inactive lifestyle. But in the long run, this can lead to both physical injury and emotional distress.
The study consisted of 44 women, aged 30 to 55. Researchers randomly assigned them to a stretching group, a resistance training group; or, a control group.
The stretching group went through a 12-week supervised training program. Twice a week they would take 40-minute stretching sessions without a therapist’s assistance. The trainers increased the intensity of the workouts over time.
Trainers put the resistance group through a similar 12-week, twice-a-week program. The patients did eight repetitions of resistance exercises, adding more weight each week.
The control group received standard fibromyalgia treatment but no exercise.
At the end of the 12 weeks, those in the stretching group were able to endure pain better and showed significant improvement in symptoms and quality of life. The resistance training group showed both physical and symptom improvements.
Analysis indicated that stretching significantly improved patients’ ability to deal with pain and to function better physically, while the biggest of resistance training was reducing patients’ depression.
The controls had the highest morning-fatigue and stiffness scores of the three groups, and the lowest score for vitality.
Researchers concluded that stretching had the biggest impact on patients’ quality of life, while resistance training had the biggest impact on fibromyalgia symptoms and on patients’ physical functioning, vitality, social interaction, and mental health.
“The muscle stretching exercise program was the most effective modality in improving quality of life, especially physical functioning and pain, and resistance training was the most effective modality in reducing depression,” the team wrote.
The key is to start slowly.