by Sasha Nimmo

Southern Cross University (SCU) is running a pilot trial to see if aquatic therapy improves the self-reported wellness scores of people with ME, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), post viral fatigue syndrome, post infectious fatigue syndrome or chronic mononucleosis.

SCU’s Dr Suzanne Broadbent was researching various exercise modalities for an study and found that while aquatic or hydrotherapy is recommended for Fibromyalgia, it has never been trialled with CFS clients.

“There may be benefits for CFS clients who also have fibromyalgia and POTS or orthostatic problems (ie water pressure can improve circulation and venous return),” Dr Broadbent said.

The University’s media release said up to 75 per cent of people with CFS/ME also have Fibromyalgia (no study cited).

The trial will involve 10-15 patients (no control group) and is internally funded through a small seed grant. The researchers are hoping to get enough data to apply for a much larger grant which could also involve other clinics.

“Firstly, we are going to do a one-off short session with all participants to check that the stretches and exercises do not cause any symptom exacerbation on the day or within the next 24 hours. Then there will be 2 short sessions per week for 4 weeks; the length of time depends on the participants themselves. The majority will probably start only doing about 15 minutes duration; the exercises are going to be very low intensity, self-paced and we will be including a lot of stretching,” Dr Broadbent said.

The pool temp is between 27 – 29 degrees C.

The researchers rely on GP diagnosis and self-reported symptoms. (A nearby university found that Australian GPs frequently misdiagnose ME and CFS, two in five diagnoses don’t meet the Fukuda CFS criteria and less than a third meet the ICC criteria for ME).

The outcome measures will be 6 minute walk test (if clients cannot walk for 6 minutes then they can stop at any time and they will record distance and calculate walk speed); hand grip strength; 30 second Sit to Stand;  shoulder and hip range of motion; FACIT fatigue scale; VAS 0 – 10 pain and tiredness scale.

Self-reported symptoms and wellness will also be recorded weekly. There are no invasive measures in this pilot.

Dr Broadbent addressed the issue of the PACE trial and graded exercise.

“Any progression is going to be self-paced. From talking to prospective participants, it would be likely that any progressions will be small and a matter of minutes over 4 weeks. It is an increase in duration not intensity that we would like to see.

“Just about the PACE trial; like many exercise therapists, I have a lot of concerns due to lack of reporting of exercise measures. I get sent a lot of information about it from people around the world and I find myself going back to smaller studies by different researchers that really report the types of exercises and give more specific results!”

Read about the findings of the aquatic pilot trial.