Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain in muscles and soft tissues surrounding the joints throughout the body. It is estimated that nearly 10 million people in the United States suffer from this condition. Though the condition affects both men and women, it is more common among middle-aged women.
The most common symptom associated with the condition is pain, which may initially begin in one area of the body such as neck or shoulders and eventually spread to the entire body. Pain symptoms range from mild to severe and may also be accompanied by other signs such as itchy/burning skin, sleep disturbances, balance problems, numbness or tingling in the extremities, balance problems, and multiple points of tenderness.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia and the condition is treated with variety of medications and with exercise. How does exercise help? A new study suggests that exercising stimulates the brain centers associated with pain modulation and that is why it is an effective treatment for this medical condition. The findings of the study were published at the American Pain Society (APS) 34th Annual Scientific Meeting. The researchers found that exercise interventions brought some temporary improvement in centrally mediated pain modulation, that too, without exacerbating pain symptoms.
Fibromyalgia is a complex, unexplained condition characterized by abnormality in pain modulation. The researchers claim that understanding what role modulation plays out in the central nervous system could provide some valuable insights into the cause of the condition. They scanned the brains of 12 women with fibromyalgia symptoms by using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The mean age of women was 39.5 years. The patients were imaged immediately after they finished 25 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling on a stationary bicycle and once again a week later after taking adequate rest.
It was found that, after exercising the patients experienced a drop in pain symptoms by about 5 points (on the McGill Pain Questionnaire Visual Analogue Scale – that runs from 0 to 100). On the other hand, their pain symptoms increased by about 7 points after taking rest. The brain scans also showed higher activity in the patient’s left anterior insulae after physical activity than after rest.
The study highlights the pivotal role of exercise in fibromyalgia pain management. The researchers point out that while doing exercise may initially increase pain, this will eventually get resolved and the temporary improvements in pain will become permanent over time.