Yoga May Combat Fibromyalgia Symptoms10/14/10
THURSDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Yoga that includes gentle
stretches and meditation may help alleviate the symptoms of
fibromyalgia, a small study finds.
Twenty-five women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain
syndrome, were enrolled in a two-hour yoga class that met once a
week for eight weeks. Another group of 28 women diagnosed with the
condition were put on a waiting list and told to continue their
normal routine for dealing with fibromyalgia.
After eight weeks, the yoga group reported improvements in both
physical and psychological aspects of fibromyalgia, including
decreased pain, fatigue, tenderness, anxiety and better sleep and
"The women were somewhat apprehensive when we started, but once they got into the rhythm of it they found it to be very helpful," said lead study author James Carson, a clinical psychologist and pain specialist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. "They came back after the first week reporting less pain, better sleep and feeling encouraged for the first time in years. That type of change continued to build over the course of the program."
At the end of the study, about 4.5 percent in the yoga group
reported being "very much better," 9.1 percent said they were "much
better," 77 percent were "a little better" while 4.5 percent
reported no change. In comparison, no one in the the control group
reported that they were "very much better" or "much better," 19.2
percent reported being "a little better," and 38.5 percent reported
Average pain scores dropped from a 5 to a 4 on a 10-point scale,
although there was no improvement in the overall "tender point"
The study was limited by its small sample, absence of follow-up
and over-reliance on self-reported data, the researchers noted.
The study, published online Oct. 14, is in the November print
issue of the journal
No cure exists for fibromyalgia, which is characterized by
multiple tender points, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and
memory and concentration problems. Some 11 to 15 million Americans
have the debilitating condition, about 80 to 90 percent of them
women, according to background information in the article.
Fibromyalgia can be very difficult to treat, with many patients
reporting little relief from medications, said Dr. Bruce Solitar, a
clinical associate professor of medicine in the division or
rheumatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
Yoga is probably worth trying, Solitar said. But he noted that
patients in the study were in a yoga class specially tailored to
their needs and said the class at a local yoga studio might be too
The yoga sessions evaluated in the study included 40 minutes of
gentle stretching and poses, 25 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes
of breathing techniques, a 20-minute lesson on applying yoga
principals to daily life and coping with fibromyalgia and 25
minutes of group discussion. Participants were also encouraged to
practice at home with a DVD on most days.
Though it's unknown how much of the positive effect shown in the
study is the "placebo" effect of doing something that feels
empowering vs. something special about the yoga and meditation
itself, that may be beside the point if people feel better, Solitar
"Many patients report that not much helps them, so anything that's positive is a very good thing," Solitar said.
In the study, women practiced Yoga of Awareness, a type of yoga
developed by Carson, a yoga and meditation instructor, and his
wife, study co-author Kimberly Carson. Carson taught the class.
(Carson reported no financial considerations that would cause a
conflict of interest.)
Yoga of Awareness draws from the Kripalu school of yoga, Carson
said, which emphasizes the "inner dimensions" of yoga, such as
accepting pain and being willing to learn from pain and stressful
circumstances, being mentally "present in the moment" and learning
to distinguish between actual events and the mind's tendency to
"catastrophize" pain -- that is, thinking it's the worst pain ever
when really it's manageable, he said.
Previous research showed Yoga of Awareness improved pain,
fatigue, sleep and mood in women with breast cancer, Carson
It's unknown what aspects of Yoga of Awareness are the most
beneficial, but Carson said he believes the exercise, meditation
and the social aspects all contribute.
"It's the combination that has a synergistic effect," Carson said. "Our mind and body are very connected, but we are often not aware of that fact. Techniques like yoga really reinforce that connection and make us much more conscious of the fact that our thoughts and our feelings are affecting our body, and our body is affecting how we think and feel."
If you have fibromyalgia and are looking for a yoga class,
Carson recommended seeking out a class advertised as "gentle" and
making sure the instructor knows you have physical challenges so
that poses can be modified.
Since many yoga classes don't incorporate much meditation,
Carson also recommends seeking out a meditation class, which
teaches breathing exercises to reduce stress and cope with
A study published in August in the
New England Journal of Medicine found tai chi may also help
give fibromyalgia sufferers some relief. Like yoga, tai chi is a
mind-body exercise that emphasizes slow, gentle movements to build
strength and flexibility, as well as deep breathing and relaxation,
qi, or vital energy, throughout the body.
National Center for Complementary and A...rnative Medicine has
more on yoga.
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