Exercise and Fibromyalgia

Normal, healthy individuals often experience a reduction in pain sensitivity after exercise, an effect called exercise induced analgesia (EIA).  Exercise is a common recommendation for those diagnosed with fibromyalgia (FM), a condition of widespread musculoskeletal pain.  But reports in the scientific literature are inconsistent as to whether those with FM experience EIA.

A study in the June issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looked at the effects of two cycling exercise routines on the perception of pain and on mood in subjects with diagnosed FM.  The routines differed in intensity, one self selected by the experimental subjects and the other consistent with American Pain Society exercise prescription recommendations.  Generally, the self selected intensity was lower than the prescription intensity which was, itself, moderate.  Both routines resulted in an increase in pain threshold and pain tolerance, and a decrease in pain intensity and unpleasantness.  The results also showed that, for up to four days after the exercise sessions, the number and location of painful sites did not change but the overall pain score was lower.  Finally, the results showed improvements in mood, including depression, anger, and fatigue scales.

The authors discuss possible reasons for some of the inconsistency in the literature and suggest that: “studies involving higher exercise intensity and/or eccentric contractions consistently increase pain sensitivity in FM, whereas those involving low to moderate intensity without eccentric contractions result in a hypoalgesic response” and that “prescriptions of exercise based on preferred intensity may have a positive effect on exercise adherence” and, therefore, effectiveness.

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