Physical therapy in the treatment of fibromyalgia

Offenbacher M, Stucki G.

Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Munich, Germany.

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a syndrome of unknown etiology characterized by chronic wide spread pain, increased tenderness to palpation and additional symptoms such as disturbed sleep, stiffness, fatigue and psychological distress. While medication mainly focus on pain reduction, physical therapy is aimed at disease consequences such as pain, fatigue, deconditioning, muscle weakness and sleep disturbances and other disease consequences. We systematically reviewed current treatment options in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Based on evidence from randomized controlled trials cardiovascular fitness training importantly improves cardiovascular fitness, both subjective and objective measures of pain as well as subjective energy and work capacity and physical and social activities. Based on anecdotal evidence or small observational studies physiotherapy may reduce overloading of the muscle system, improve postural fatigue and positioning, and condition weak muscles. Modalities and whole body cryotherapy may reduce localized as well as generalized pain in short term. Trigger point injection may reduce pain originating from concomitant trigger points in selected FM patient. Massage may reduce muscle tension and may be prescribed as a adjunct with other therapeutic interventions. Acupuncture may reduce pain and increase pain threshold. Biofeedback may positively influence subjective and objective disease measures. TENS may reduce localized musculoskeletal pain in fibromyalgia. While there seems to be no single best treatment option, physical therapy seem to reduce disease consequences. Accordingly a multidisciplinary approach combining these therapies in a well balanced program may be the most promising strategy and is currently recommended in the treatment of fibromyalgia.

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