The pain associated with fibromyalgia brings some fibromyalgia patients to massage therapy, and past research studies have indicated benefits of massage and other touch therapies to fibromyalgia patients. New research indicates aerobic exercise can help fibromyalgia patients’ memory and is associated with changes in pain perception.
Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, disordered sleep and cognitive changes.
Areas of the brain responsible for pain processing and cognitive performance changed in fibromyalgia patients who exercised following a “medication holiday,” said researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center in a press release. “They say the changes indicate brain functioning is more streamlined after an exercise intervention because less of the brain’s resources [are] devoted to processing bothersome fibromyalgia perceptions such as pain.”
For this study, the researchers enrolled 18 women with fibromyalgia, and gave them a baseline fMRI to assess working memory and questionnaires about their well-being and pain while they were on medication. They then were told not to use their medications for six weeks, and had a second fMRI and memory testing.
After six weeks, they had another assessment. The final scan was taken after the volunteers engaged in a six-week period of exercise, which involved three 30-minute sessions of aerobic exercise each week with a trainer.
Memory and pain typically worsen in patients after stopping their medication—which was the experience of patients in this study. After six weeks of exercise, however, patients reported an improvement in overall well-being.
“Improved memory efficiency seen after aerobic exercise in fibromyalgia patients” was presented at the Society of Neuroscience‘s annual meeting, Neuroscience 2011.