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J Pain. 2012 Feb;13(2):195-206. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2011.11.001. Epub 2012 Jan 13.

Physical activity, sustained sedentary behavior, and pain modulation in women with fibromyalgia.

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Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Fibromyalgia (FM) has been conceptualized as a disorder of the central nervous system, characterized by augmented sensory processing and an inability to effectively modulate pain. We previously reported that physical activity is related to brain processing of pain, providing evidence for a potential mechanism of pain management. The purpose of this study was to extend our work by manipulating pain modulation and determining relationships to both physical activity and sustained sedentary behavior. Eleven women with FM completed accelerometer measures of physical activity and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging of painful heat, administered alone and during distracting cognitive tasks. Results showed that physical activity was significantly (P < .005) and positively related to brain responses during distraction from pain in regions implicated in pain modulation including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the dorsal posterior cingulate, and the periaqueductal grey. A significant negative relationship occurred in the left anterior insula. For sedentary time, significant negative relationships were observed in areas involved in both pain modulation and the sensory-discriminative aspects of pain including the DLPFC, thalamus, and superior frontal and pre- and post-central gyri. These results suggest that physical activity and sedentary behaviors are related to central nervous system regulation of pain in FM.


Our results support a promising benefit of physical activity and highlight the potentially deleterious effects of sustained sedentary behavior for pain regulation in FM. Studies aimed at increasing physical activity or reducing sedentary behavior and determining the impact of these on pain regulation are warranted.

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