Norwegian University of Science and Technology scientists have established a link between the level of leisure time physical exercise and a future risk of developing fibromyalgia.
The research team also identified BMI as an independent risk factor for fibromyalgia.
The study's findings appear in the May issue of Arthritis Care and Research, a journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American College of Rheumatology.
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, and tender point sites in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs. Associated features often include unexplained fatigue, sleep disturbances, headache, cognitive difficulty, and mood disturbances. The prevalence of FM increases with age and is considerably higher among women than men. Although the etiology of FM is poorly understood, many authors have suggested that a dysfunctional autonomic nervous system involving deficiencies in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic nervous system contributes to the development of FM by altering pain perception and endogenous pain inhibition.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, FM has been linked to stressful or traumatic events, such as car accidents, repetitive injuries, illness, certain diseases, or FM can occur spontaneously. Some scientists speculate that a gene or genes might be involved in fibromyalgia that could make a person react strongly to things that other people would not find painful.
Longitudinal studies have shown that physical exercise is associated with less musculoskeletal pain and stiff or painful joints among aging women. The Norwegian researchers, led by Paul Mork, D.Phil., proposed that first, there is an association between levels of leisure time physical exercise and future risk of FM and, second, being overweight/obese may represent an independent risk factor for future development of FM. Data for the study was collected from the Nord-Trøndelag Health (HUNT) Study, the first part conducted in 1984 (HUNT 1) and the second in 1995 (HUNT 2). During the 11 years between HUNT 1 and HUNT 2, 380 cases of incident FM were reported among 15,990 women who provided information on relevant variables at both surveys and who reported no FM or physical impairment at HUNT 1.
"Women who reported exercising 4 times per week had a 29 percent lower risk of FM compared with inactive women," says Dr. Mork. "Similar results were found in the analysis of the summary score combining information on frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise; women with the highest exercise level had a somewhat lower risk than inactive women. The study further shows that a high BMI (i.e., being overweight or obese) is a strong and independent risk factor for future development of FM. Moreover, the higher relative risks for the combined effect of being overweight/obese and inactive, relative to being overweight/obese alone, point to a further disadvantage for overweight women who do not exercise."