Suffering from Fibromyalgia? Strike a Pose!

Research reveals fibromyalgia sufferers feel better if they participate in a yoga program.

Patients participating in a "Yoga of Awareness" program showed significantly greater improvement in fibromyalgia (FM) symptoms and functioning compared to patients on a standard FM care program, according to a study published in the journal Pain.

“Although yoga has been practiced for millennia, only recently have researchers begun to demonstrate yoga's effects on persons suffering from persistent pain,” said lead investigator James W. Carson, PhD, Oregon Health & Science University, in a press release. “The Yoga of Awareness program stands in contrast to previous multimodal interventions with FM 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.…the findings of this pilot study provide promising preliminary support for the beneficial effects of yoga in patients with FM.”

Given the much higher prevalence of FM in females (80%), researchers chose to include only women in this study. The study include 53 women at least 21 years of age. To be eligible, patients had to meet the following criteria: be diagnosed with FM by American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria for at least one year and be on a stable regimen of pharmacologic and/or non-pharmacologic treatment for FM for at least three months. The patients were randomized; 25 participated in the Yoga of Awareness program, while 28 received standard care.

Yoga of Awareness is an innovative, comprehensive yoga program, which for the purposes of this study was tailored to address pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and emotional distress in FM.

Each Yoga of Awareness class included approximately 40 minutes of gentle stretching poses, 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation; including awareness of breath and awareness of awareness itself. 10 minutes of breathing techniques (e.g., full yogic breath, breathing into sensation; 20 minutes of didactic presentations on the application of yogic principles to optimal coping; and 25 minutes of group discussions.

After the yoga program was completed, both groups were assessed for fibromyalgia symptoms and functional deficits, overall improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms, and physical tests of fibromyalgia symptoms. They were also tested for functional deficits such as tender points, strength and balance deficits, and a number of pain coping strategies.

Following treatment, women assigned to the yoga program showed significantly greater improvements on standardized measures of FM symptoms and functioning, including pain, fatigue, and mood, and in pain catastrophizing, acceptance, and other coping strategies.

Carson and colleagues said, “In addition, 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 (i.e., problem solving, positive reappraisal, use of religion, activity engagement despite pain, acceptance, relaxation) and less use of maladaptive strategies (i.e., catastrophizing, self-isolation, disengagement, confrontation).”

To bring these benefits to the patient community, Carson has planned a training course for yoga teachers who want to build their skills for working with individuals who have chronic pain conditions.