In the U.S. alone, between three and six million people (predominately women) have a cluster of symptoms which are typical of what we now call “fibromyalgia syndrome” or FMS.
Approximately 20% of these people are formally diagnosed with FMS. These individuals experience a nightmarish combination of poor quality sleep, fatigue, anxiety, stress, whole body stiffness, and gastrointestinal complaints.
Aquatic Exercise and FMS
In a pool, it is possible to perform the vigorous aerobic exercise without the weight-bearing and joint compression experienced on land.
Additionally, aquatic exercise would seem to be an excellent intervention for FMS patients due to the inherent properties of water itself. These properties include buoyancy, turbulence, viscosity, hydrostatic pressure, temperature, and surface tension.
Aquatic therapy for the fibromyalgia patient can cover the spectrum of therapeutic intervention. Patients who present with specific, treatable, musculoskeletal dysfunctions such as an inability to stabilize the spine, postural imbalance, poor spinal mobility, and weak trunk musculature may be treated 1:1 in the pool by a physical therapist.
This treatment may incorporate task simulation, joint, and soft tissue mobility via specialty techniques. After resolving specific dysfunctions, these patients are most often referred to a group class. Why? They just seem to do better in a group.
Patients with FMS often do battle with the unbelief of the health care system, their coworkers, their spouses. People with fibromyalgia often “look fine” to the world. A group exercise class not only provides a means of routine physical activity, but it also provides a support system and a sounding board.
Group classes should be focused on two things: moderate aerobic activity and stress relief or relaxation. An aquatic exercise class which does not urge its members to elevate their heart rates and work aerobically for at least 20-30 minutes is neglecting the one intervention which is known to be beneficial.