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Exercise Relieves Fibromyalgia Pain When Medication Won't?

  [ 137 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • August 17, 2005

Walking, stationary bike riding, swimming and yoga can bring relief that medication doesn't For people suffering fibromyalgia and other painful long-term conditions, an exercise program may deliver relief not provided by medication.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain in joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. Toronto pain consultant Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix says there have been a number of studies showing exercise is beneficial for the condition -- "about the only thing that is, as it's so unresponsive to medication," she adds. Dr. Anjelica Fargas-Babjak, an anesthesiologist and professor in the department of anesthesia at McMaster University in Hamilton, also believes exercise is a valuable treatment. "There have been several good studies that have shown exercise helps the pain of fibromyalgia. When patients gradually start to walk it improves their pain threshold.

"Most people who have chronic pain become very sedentary and unfit. In fibromyalgia patients, because of the pain they become less active. When they try to go back to exercise, everything hurts and the pain threshold goes down, and they are oversensitive to factors of everyday living. When they are put on an exercise program, it tones the whole system."

Similar results have been seen with osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear form of arthritis, Fargas-Babjak says. "I don't think there is any question about exercise and pain. Exercise can really help with treating geriatric patients. When they improve their fitness, then there is less pain, and they sleep better, and when they sleep better they have less pain. But the treatment has to be very individualized to treat the specific patient." The evidence supporting the benefits of treating depression with exercise is even more compelling -- and ties in with the treatment of pain.

"Pain and depression go together," says Dr. Mel Borins, an assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto, and a staff member at St. Joseph's Health Centre. He says there is often a depression component in chronic pain and that relieving depression may also lessen pain. "Exercise may have biochemical effects via release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters. Also, there may be social contact involved, which is beneficial." Some of the more common forms of exercise used for pain management are walking, stationary bike riding, swimming and yoga. Source:

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