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Latest News

A New Step in Water Aerobics Therapy

by Janis Leibold, Assistant Editor, Fibromyalgia Network
Posted: September 30, 2011

Researchers and physicians frequently tout the benefits of exercise, saying it can help restore physical function, improve muscle blood flow, and reduce pain. Yet finding the right level of activity is a serious hurdle, because overdoing it can easily lead to an exacerbation of your fibromyalgia pain.

Low-intensity exercise is often recommended to people with fibromyalgia to help maintain mobility. But the thought of starting an activity, overdoing it, stopping, and starting all over again is a frustrating and discouraging cycle.

Two researchers in Spain have come up with a therapeutic exercise program that fibromyalgia patients seem to be able to stick with while improving their overall health.* The study included 44 fibromyalgia patients divided into two groups. One formed the control group that received educational literature on fibromyalgia health and simply resumed their normal lifestyle. The actual study group received an exercise program that included deep water running in a warm water pool with the aid of a floatation device.

The eight-week program consisted of five minutes of gentle stretching, 15 minutes of mobility and flexibility exercises, 15 minutes of moderate muscle strengthening, 20 minutes of deep water running with a flotation device, followed by a five-minute relaxing, cool-down period. In total, the participants did this one-hour routine three times a week.

Before and after the eight-week program, both groups were given an fibromyalgia symptom questionnaire to evaluate the treatment effects. In addition, the study group was given a heart-rate activity test to determine at what point they were pushing themselves beyond a moderate threshold. This information was used to individualize each study participant’s exercise treatment program.

During the first two weeks, patients in the deep water running group were instructed to keep a fairly low heart rate. Then they should attempt to exercise with an increased heart rate that produced a moderate water running pace based on their prior testing. This part of the study was done in six feet of 81-degree water (the deep end of a pool). Participants wore a floatation belt that kept their head above water, and they were instructed to mimic a running motion. No participants dropped out of the study.

The test group reported a 20 percent reduction in most of their fibromyalgia symptoms. Significantly noted was less pain, fatigue, and morning stiffness. Improvements were also made in physical function, anxiety, depression, sleep, and overall quality of life. The control group showed no improvement.

"It is difficult to separate the effectiveness of the deep water running from the other activities," said Antonio I. Cuesta-Vargas, Ph.D. "But previous studies of exercise show worsening of symptoms and high drop-out levels. Here, there were no reported adverse effects confirming that patients with fibromyalgia can undergo physical training without damage and increased muscle soreness, and the deep water running may be a useful addition to treatment."

A 20 percent improvement is relatively small, but keep in mind that this is just one aspect of treatment. Cuesta-Vargas is now seeking to incorporate this combination of physical activity into a complete program for fibromyalgia patients that includes diagnosis, activity and counseling, and pain management.

*Cuesta-Vargas AI, Adams N. Clin Rheumatol [Epub ahead of print] Aug 25, 2011.

Note: Looking for a flotation device that’s easy to use? See a variety available online at the following locations:

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