Widespread pain and sensitivity felt throughout the body — a condition known as fibromyalgia — is often difficult to treat, but past research has shown that light exercise and walking can alleviate some measure of patients' discomfort.

Aside from pain, fibromyalgia can also cause sleep disorders, decrease levels of serotonin and impact the autonomic system. What's more, about 5 percent of women are afflicted with this painful disease, and it is more common among women than men, making it a significant public health issue.

Now, a new study conducted by experts from São Paulo reveal that swimming can be at least as good as walking at relieving symptoms of fibromyaglia and improving patients' quality of life.

The findings offer patients who cannot walk because of other conditions an alternative activity to help ease their pain.

Alternatives For Alleviating Symptoms Of Fibromyaglia

In 2003, researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) found that walking was more effective than stretching in enhancing cardiovascular fitness, reducing pain and improving the emotional health of patients with fibromyaglia.

Three years later, the same group found that deep-water running was also a good option in treating the condition.

"Physical exercise is an essential component of any treatment for fibromyalgia," says Rheumatology Professor Jamil Natour.

However, Natour says not everyone is able to perform the same kind of physical activity, so he and his colleagues decided to find alternatives.

The new study included 75 sedentary women who were aged 18 to 60 years old and suffered from fibromyalgia.

Researchers assigned 39 of the participants to swimming, while the remaining participants were assigned to walking.

The participants' conditions were measured before and after 12 weeks of engaging in their respective activities for 50 minutes thrice a week.

In the end, the average intensity of pain decreased among patients from both groups, depending on a visual scale that ranged from 0 centimeters to 10 centimeters (approx. 4 inches), with 10 as the worst pain.

Participants in the walking group reported decreased pain from 6.2 to 3.6, while members in the swimming group reported reduced pain from 6.4 to 3.1.

Researchers also discovered that the mental and social health of both groups also improved significantly.

The swimming group showed an increase in social interaction from 56 to 80, while the walking group increased from 52 to 72.

When it comes to mental health, the swimming group's score rose from 55.7 to 68, while the walking group's score increased from 55.1 to 66.8.

Natour concludes that swimming can be an option for patients who suffer from both fibromyalgia and knee arthrosis.

Details of the report are published in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Photo: Ed Ivanushkin | Flickr

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