May 7, 2010 (Baltimore) -- People with fibromyalgia may be prone to falls due to balance problems, a small study suggests.
The findings suggest that people with fibromyalgia can benefit from exercises to improve balance, says Kim Dupree Jones, PhD, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
"Balance is what we can try to manipulate to reduce falls, just like we try to manipulate cholesterol levels to reduce heart disease," she tells WebMD.
Jones and colleagues studied 25 middle-aged people, average age 50, with fibromyalgia and 28 healthy people in the same age group.
Over a six-month period, those with fibromyalgia fell an average of 3.48 times vs. an average of 0.15 falls in the healthy group.
The new study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society.
People With Fibromyalgia Score Worse on Balance Test
The study involved only middle-aged people in order to preclude older age as a culprit in patients' falls, Jones says.
To find out whether balance problems could be to blame, the researchers employed computerized balance platform testing. "It tests the three components of balance -- visual, vestibular (spatial) and somatosensory," Jones says.
The test involves standing on a platform while watching a visual target. Pressure gauges under the platform record shifts in body sway as a person is subjected to conditions that are designed to make the person lose balance.
"How much you sway gives you information about balance," she says.
People with fibromyalgia scored worse on all three parts of the test than their healthy counterparts.
On the visual aspect of the balance test, the fibromyalgia group scored an average 0.68 while the healthy group scored an average of 0.87. In all three parts, 1 represents a perfect score.
On the spatial part of the test, the fibromyalgia group scored an average 0.41 vs. an average 0.67 in the healthy group. On the somatosensory part, scores were 0.91 and 0.98, respectively.
"The average 50-year old with fibromyalgia has scores on all the tests that are worse than you would expect in a healthy 70- to 80-year-old," Jones says.
The study also showed there was no relationship between the number of medications fibromyalgia patients took and their balance scores.
However, people with fibromyalgia did take substantially more medications than the healthy participants, which means that the possibility that medications are contributing to their falls can't be ruled out.
Armando Miciano, MD, of the Nevada Rehabilitation Institute in Las Vegas, tells WebMD that studies have shown that aerobic exercise can help to improve pain, fatigue, and depression in people with fibromyalgia.
The new findings suggest "we should be recommending balance exercises as well as aerobic exercise for our patients," he says.