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Fibromyalgia Patients Can Benefit from Yoga


The gentle poses of yoga may provide some much-needed pain relief for people who have fibromyalgia, according to research conducted at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). The chronic disorder, which primarily affects women, is characterized by widespread pain that can be difficult to treat.

Yoga poses, meditation and breathing can prove helpful

Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 10 million people in the United States, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. Chronic, widespread pain is the main symptom, but patients also can experience severe fatigue, sleep disorders, difficulties with concentration and other cognitive functioning, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and migraines, and depression, among other symptoms.

The bottom line is, fibromyalgia can be a debilitating condition, and it is also a challenge to treat. James Carson, PhD, a clinical health psychologist and an assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine, pointed out that “previous research suggests that the most successful treatment for fibromyalgia involves a combination of medications, physical exercise and development of coping skills.”

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This latest study focuses on yoga and included 53 women with fibromyalgia who were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Twenty-five women participated in an eight-week yoga program (“Yoga of Awareness”), and each session included gentle poses (40 minutes), breathing exercises (10 minutes), mindfulness meditation (25 minutes), and group discussions (20 minutes). These women were asked to keep a daily record of their condition. Twenty-eight women received conventional medications.

After eight weeks, both groups of women underwent evaluations that included questionnaires and physical tests. A comparison of before and after findings in both groups revealed that women who participated in yoga experienced significant relief in many symptoms, including pain (reduced an average or 24%), fatigue (30%), and depression (42%). They also reported significant relief from stiffness, sleep problems, poor memory, anxiety, and poor balance.

This is not the first study to find that physical activity helps relieve fibromyalgia symptoms. Several studies have pointed out the benefits of tai chi in fibromyalgia patients, including a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine in which patients participated in tai chi twice a week for twelve weeks. Another study found that resistance training was helpful.

The results of this study are important because the improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms associated with yoga were significant enough to have a practical impact on the women’s daily functioning. Carson believes that “based on the results of this research, we strongly believe that further study of this potential therapy is warranted.”

Kinglsey JD et al. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2010 Oct; 91(10): 1551-57
Oregon Health & Science University
Wang C et al. New England Journal of Medicine 2010 Aug 19; 363(8): 743-54