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Swimming an effective way to treat fibromyalgia, study finds

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Swimming is as effective as walking to relieve pain and improve quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) conducted a randomised clinical trial testing alternative treatments for fibromyalgia.

The results were published in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the official journal of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM).

Jamil Natour, a professor of rheumatology at UNIFESP and principal investigator for the research project supported by FAPESP, noted that swimming hadn´t yet been evaluated with “proper scientific rigour” as a means of treatment for the disease.

The 75 study participants – sedentary women aged between 18 and 60 years who had fibromyalgia – were divided randomly into two groups: 39 practised freestyle swimming and 36 undertook moderate open-air walking.

Both groups had three 50-minute sessions, three times a week for 12 weeks, which were overseen by physical education professionals specialising in rheumatology.

Before and after the 12-week training period, the volunteers were evaluated according to several parameters, including pain intensity and quality of life.

Pain intensity was evaluated using a visual scale ranging from 0 cm (no pain) to 10 cm (unbearable pain), with a decrease of at least two on the pain scale considered clinically significant, according to Natour.

Pain intensity fell from 6.2 to 3.6 on average in the walking group and from 6.4 to 3.1 in the swimming group

Quality of life was evaluated using two clinically validated questionnaires: Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire and the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36).

In terms of the SF-36 responses, in social interaction, the average improved from 56 to 80 in the swimming group and from 52 to 72 in the walking group. In mental health, the swimming group rose from 55.7 to 68, and the walking group from 51.1 to 66.8.

Meanwhile, there was equal improvement among the two groups in the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire and on a spiroergometric test measuring peak oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and anaerobic threshold.

“The results of this clinical trial showed swimming was as beneficial as walking, whose positive effects have clearly been demonstrated. Swimming can be a preferable option for a person who suffers from both fibromyalgia and knee arthrosis, for example,” Natour concluded.