Yoga Eases Fibromyalgia Pain

Gentle Stretching, Breathing Exercises, Meditation May Lessen Pain, Improve Function, Researchers Say

Women with fibromyalgia can reduce symptoms of the disease and improve their function by practicing the mind-body techniques of yoga, a new study says.

Researchers in Oregon who enrolled 53 women aged 21 or older for the study say that women who participated in a “Yoga of Awareness” health program showed significantly greater improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms.

Their findings are published in the November issue of Pain, the journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

To participate in the study, the women had to have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia using the American College of Rheumatology’s criteria for at least one year, and to be on a stable regimen of prescription or over-the-counter medications for at least three months.

Because the prevalence of fibromyalgia is much greater in women than in men, researchers enrolled only women, 25 of whom participated in a yoga awareness program and 28 who received standard care.

Women in the “Yoga of Awareness” class participated for eight weeks in a program of instruction and exercise.

Classes included 40 minutes of gentle stretching poses, 25 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of breathing techniques, 20 minutes of teaching presentations on using yoga principles for coping, and 25 minutes of group discussions, in which participants talked about practicing yoga in their homes.

Both groups were then assessed for fibromyalgia symptoms and functional deficits and overall improvement of pain. They also underwent physical tests to identify “tender points” and an analysis of pain-coping strategies that they used.

Yoga Reduces Pain and Other Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Women assigned to the yoga program showed significantly greater improvements on the standardized measures of fibromyalgia symptoms, levels of pain, fatigue, and mood, among other things.

Researcher James W. Carson, PhD, of the Oregon Health & Science University, says in a news release that the results “suggested the yoga intervention led to a beneficial shift in how patients cope with pain, including greater use of adaptive pain-coping strategies.” Those strategies included engaging in activities despite pain, acceptance of their condition, the use of religion as a coping mechanism, and the ability to relax.

Women in the intervention group also reported feeling less isolated and said they were less confrontational and less likely to see things in the worst light, or to “catastrophize.”

Yoga Helpful for Fibromyalgia

Standard care for fibromyalgia includes medications accompanied by exercise and instructions on how to best cope with pain.

“Although yoga has been practiced for millennia, only recently have researchers begun to demonstrate yoga’s effects on persons suffering from persistent pain,” Carson says. “The Yoga of Awareness program stands in contrast to previous multimodal interventions with [fibromyalgia] patients in that it integrates a wide spectrum of yoga-based techniques — postures, mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, application of yogic principles to optimal coping, and group discussions.”

He says the study provides “promising preliminary support for the beneficial effects of yoga” for patients with fibromyalgia.

Carson says he has planned a training course for yoga teachers who want to build their skills for working with people suffering from chronic pain.

Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition that affects about 11 million people in the United States and carries an annual direct cost for care of more than $20 billion.

The authors say drug therapies are only 30% effective in relieving the pain of fibromyalgia, and 20% effective in improving function.

They also say more research is needed to determine the biological changes that may occur during yoga.

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