Pain perception after isometric exercise in women with fibromyalgia

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2011 Jan;92(1):89-95. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2010.10.006.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify exercise protocols incorporating isometric contractions that provide pain relief in women with fibromyalgia.

Design: A before-after trial.

Setting: A physical therapy department in an academic setting.

Participants: Fifteen women (mean ± SD, 52±11y) with fibromyalgia.

Interventions: Subjects completed 4 sessions: 1 familiarization and 3 experimental. The following randomized experimental sessions involved the performance of isometric contractions with the elbow flexor muscles that varied in intensity and duration: (1) 3 maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs), (2) 25% MVC held to task failure, and (3) 25% MVC held for 2 minutes.

Main outcome measures: Experimental pain (pain threshold and pain rating), Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire, and fibromyalgia pain intensity (visual analog scale).

Results: After all 3 isometric contractions, there was considerable variability between subjects in the pain response. Based on the changes in experimental pain, subjects were divided into 3 groups (increase, decrease, no change in pain). Multiple regression analysis revealed that age, baseline experimental pain, and change in fibromyalgia pain intensity were significant predictors of the experimental pain response after the isometric contractions.

Conclusions: We identified subgroups of women with fibromyalgia based on how they perceived pain after isometric contractions. The greatest pain relief for women with fibromyalgia occurred at a younger age and in women with the greatest experimental pain before exercise. Additionally, we established a link between experimental and clinical pain relief after the performance of isometric contractions.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / physiopathology
  • Fibromyalgia / psychology
  • Fibromyalgia / rehabilitation*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Isometric Contraction*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Perception*
  • Pain Threshold
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors


  • Hydrocortisone