Fibromyalgia and resistance exercise have often been considered an impossible combination. But with proper support and individually adjusted exercises, female patients achieved considerable health improvements, according to research carried out at Sahlgrenska Academy.
“If the goal for these women is to improve their strength, then they shouldn’t be afraid to exercise, but they need to exercise the right way. It has long been said that they will only experience more pain as a result of resistance exercise, that it doesn’t work. But in fact, it does,” says Anette Larsson, whose dissertation was in physical therapy and who is an active physical therapist at Närhälsan in Herrljunga.
As part of her dissertation, she studied 130 women aged between 20–65 years with fibromyalgia, a disease in which nine of ten cases are women. It is characterized by widespread muscle pain and increased pain sensitivity, often combined with fatigue, reduced physical capacity and limitation of activities in daily life.
About half of the women in the study (67) were selected at random to undergo a program of person-centered, progressive resistance exercise led by a physical therapist. The other 63 women comprised the control group and underwent a more traditional therapy program with relaxation exercises. The training and exercises lasted for fifteen weeks and were held twice a week.
“The women who did resistance exercise began at very light weights, which were determined individually for each participant because they have highly varying levels of strength. We began at 40 percent of the max and then remained that level for three to four weeks before increasing to 60 percent,” explains Anette Larsson.