Muscle Strength and Flexibility Linked to Pain for Women with Fibromyalgia

It may be easy to write a prescription for opioids in hopes that they will do the trick for patients struggling with fibromyalgia pain. But the best path towards effective analgesia may not require medication at all.

This isn’t the first time that research has pointed out the benefits of exercise as a form of treatment for women with fibromyalgia. A study released earlier in the year found that patients who took more steps each day experienced less pain. However, in the new trial researchers used a larger population pool to make their case in Arthritis Care & Research, and they succeeded.

A total of 468 women with fibromyalgia were evaluated and levels of pain were recorded with several methods including algometry, numeric rating scale, visual analog scale, and the bodily pain subscale on the Short Form 36 health survey. The authors also looked at chronic pain self-efficacy and pain catastrophizing to determine patients who may exaggerate what they were actually feeling. The Senior Fitness Test battery and handgrip dynamometry were used to measure physical fitness – made up of aerobic fitness, muscle strength, flexibility, and motor agility – and average global fitness profile.

Time and time again, higher physical fitness proved to be associated with less pain. In addition, better fitness was linked to higher chronic pain self-efficacy and lower pain catastrophizing – regardless of pain and fitness evaluation methods.

Muscle strength and flexibility showed a direct relationship with pain. The patients who had both high muscle strength and flexibility reported the lowest levels of pain. When it came to pain catastrophizing, aerobic fitness and flexibility proved to be the independent factors. Those who had high levels of both had the best catastrophizing and self-efficacy profiles.

“Our results suggest that higher physical fitness is associated with lower levels of pain, lower pain-related catastrophizing, and higher chronic pain self-efficacy in women with fibromyalgia,” the authors concluded.

More studies in this area of fibromyalgia are needed, but these findings suggest that it may be time to put down the prescription medication and get moving.

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