New research shows that fibromyalgia patients could benefit significantly from regular exercise in a heated swimming pool.
Fibromyalgia is poorly understood and patients are often provided with very few effective treatment options to help them manage the pain and other symptoms. Pain medications are often prescribed, but for reasons not fully understood, do not seem to be particularly effective in those with the condition.
This new research may offer effective symptom relief that is free from side-effects and is relatively inexpensive.
The study was a collaborative effort between researchers in Spain and Portugal and the results are published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy.
Narcís Gusi and Pablo Tomas-Carus, both experts in sports science, conducted a randomised, controlled trial which involved thirty-three women with fibromyalgia. Their aim was to find an alternative approach to the treatment of the disabling condition based on their knowledge of sports science.
The participants were split into two groups with seventeen taking part in a swimming pool exercise program and the remaining sixteen living as they normally would.
The supervised training exercises took place in a heated swimming pool and each session lasted for an hour. During each session the women stood in waist-high water while an instructor guided them through a warm-up, strength exercises, aerobics, and a cool-down period. The participants attended the pool for these exercise sessions three times per week over a period of eight months.
The researchers found the fibromyalgia patients who participated in the long-term swimming pool exercise program experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms and a general improvement in their health-related quality of life. These results were based on questionnaires that participants completed throughout the study.
Gusi and Tomas-CarusIn had shown in an earlier study that the pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia could be reduced even with a short-term exercise program, but that symptoms returned once patients stopped exercising.
The pair concluded that "the addition of an aquatic exercise programme to the usual care for fibromyalgia in women, is cost-effective in terms of both health care costs and societal costs." They said that they believe such a program to be a good "health investment."
Fibromyalgia patients often seek alternative treatments for their condition when their symptoms fail to respond to pain medications and other offerings with limited effectiveness. Some of these alternatives include other forms of gentle exercise such as low-impact aerobics, walking, and tai-chi. Gusi and Tomas-CarusIn intend to investigate how these often more accessible therapies compare with their aquatic exercise program in future studies.
Source: Gusi N and Tomas-Carus P (2008) Cost-utility of an 8-month aquatic training for women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial Arthritis Research & Therapy 10(1):R24