Fibromyalgia & Movement, Exercise
I recently came across two research studies which you may find interesting if you have fibromyalgia. One suggests that those with fibromyalgia have a disconnect between their ability to sense and feel proper movement, and the other study showed a program of walking, stretching, and strengthening offered positive results.
The first study is quite interesting, as the authors showed that often these sufferers have a mismatch between the sensory and motor systems, basically a lack of proper communication. Your sensory system would consist of your eyes and ears, and your joint and muscle receptors.
Your sensory system, which is sometimes referred to as proprioception, senses joint position and force going through your joints, as well as the length of your muscles. It then provides this information to your nervous system, which then relays this information to your muscles.
Apparently, people with fibromyalgia have a disconnect between these systems. For example, researchers asked 19 patients to do a movement with one arm, which was hidden from view, while watching the reflection of their other arm in a mirror. In 16 of the patients this caused a flare up of symptoms.
In their eyes this adds to the growing body of evidence of the communication problems between sensory and motor systems. I’ll show you some ways to work on this later.
Study number two looked at the effects of exercise on fibromyalgia patients. One group was asked to follow a program of walking and stretching. Another added in simple strength training movements to the walking and stretching. A third was given a self management course to follow and the last group combined all four of these elements.
The fourth group got the best overall results, combining exercise with education. The key with this population would be gradual increase in exercise intensity, as it would be for everyone.
These results were still present at a six month followup.
Obviously, massage therapy would be of great help in reducing pain and dysfunction. Specific stretches that involve gentle movement would definitely help most people. Joint mobility movements would fit this description, as they involve slow, controlled movements of the joints.
Another thing that joint mobility works on is the mind/body connection, consciously feeling what is going on as you move. These type of movements can also help reestablish the proper connection between the sensory and motor systems. Often times after injury, this connection is interrupted and needs to be retrained. Dr. Thomas Hanna refers to this interruption as sensory-motor amnesia.
Whole body vibration can also help as it provides a large endorphin release to help with pain reduction. It can also help restore proper connection between the sensors and muscles. Whole body vibration platforms cause reflex contractions of the muscles to occur from 25-50 times per second.
The vibration also stimulates your receptors, sending a lot of information to your nervous system – information which competes with the pain signals, possibly blocking some of them. One study on WBV at Ohio State showed positive results with fibromyalgia patients.