November 12, 2007 / 9:02 PM / 12 years ago

Exercise found to ease chronic pain of fibromyalgia

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Regular walks and stretching exercises can help ease the chronic, depressing pain of fibromyalgia, a mysterious ailment with no obvious cure, researchers said on Monday.

Striking more than 3 percent of U.S. women and 0.5 percent of men, the illness’ primary symptoms are debilitating pain throughout the body — often with sensitivity and stiffness focused in the joints. Other symptoms include sleep problems, fatigue and depression.

No single test can diagnose fibromyalgia, and sometimes patients are treated with behavioral therapy.

Pregablin, a drug that calms nerve cells, gained U.S. regulatory approval in June to treat the pain from fibromyalgia. It is sold as Lyrica by Pfizer Inc..

In a study of 207 women aged 18 to 75 diagnosed with fibromyalgia, researchers assigned one group to a twice-weekly aerobic and stretching program for 16 weeks. Another group added mild strength training, a third group attended a two-hour education course every two weeks, and a fourth combined all the approaches. The 135 women who completed the courses were re-evaluated six months later.

“An appropriately structured exercise program that involves progressive walking and flexibility movements with or without strength training improves physical, emotional and social function,” concluded study author Daniel Rooks of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Assessing their own well-being, the participants scored better in such categories as pain reduction, physical functioning and vitality after completing the courses. Those who both exercised and took the education course improved the most.

“The beneficial effect on physical function of exercise alone and in combination with education persisted at six months,” Rooks said in the report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Such findings should encourage people with aches and pains to exercise more, as they tend to be “even less active than the relatively sedentary general public,” the report said.

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