Pain variability in fibromyalgia is related to activity and rest: role of peripheral tissue impulse input

J Pain. 2010 Dec;11(12):1376-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2010.03.011. Epub 2010 May 7.


Because fibromyalgia (FM) patients frequently report activity-dependent deep tissue pains, impulse input from painful body regions may be relevant for their musculoskeletal complaints. In addition, peripheral impulse input may induce and maintain thermal and mechanical hyperalgesia of FM patients. If so, activity and rest may alternately enhance and diminish intensity of FM pain. However, the effects of exercise on pain are ambiguous in studies of FM. Whereas exercise-only studies demonstrated increased pain and hyperalgesia during and after physical activity, some exercise studies that included rest periods resulted in decreased FM pain and increased function. To further clarify these effects, we examined the effects of alternating exercise with rest on clinical pain and thermal/mechanical hyperalgesia of 34 FM patients and 36 age-matched healthy controls (NC). Using an ergometer, all subjects performed arm exercise to exhaustion twice alternating with 15-minute rest periods. Although strenuous muscle activity was reported as painful by most FM subjects, overall clinical pain consistently decreased during the rest periods. Additionally, FM subjects' pain sensitivity to mechanical pressure decreased after each exercise and rest session.

Conclusion: Alternating strenuous exercise with brief rest periods not only decreased overall clinical pain of FM subjects but also their mechanical hyperalgesia. No prolonged worsening of overall FM pain and hyperalgesia occurred despite vigorous muscle activity. Our findings contribute further evidence that FM pain and hyperalgesia are at least partially maintained by muscle impulse input, and that some types of exercises may be beneficial for FM.

Perspective: FM is a pain-amplification syndrome that depends at least in part on peripheral tissue impulse input. Whereas muscle activity increased overall pain, short rest periods produced analgesic effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / complications*
  • Fibromyalgia / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / epidemiology
  • Hyperalgesia / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Rest / physiology*