A new study by researchers at Canada’s York University suggests that yoga may reduce pain and restore healthier cortisol levels among women suffering from Fibromyalgia, whose levels are commonly depleted (resulting in greater overall stress). This the first study to demonstrate improvements in cortisol among Fibromyalgia patients practicing yoga.
Fibromyalgia is most commonly experienced among women aged 20 to 50, and is characterized by long-lasting, systemic pain and tenderness in the body’s joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues, as well as anxiety, depression, and GI distress. It’s origins are unknown, though possible causes or triggers may include physical or emotional trauma, abnormal response to painful stimuli, disturbances in sleep, or certain viral infections.
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Typical treatment protocols might include physical therapy, exercise, stress relief, medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or lifestyle changes, depending on the individual. Successful treatment of pain and psychological symptoms in Fibromyalgia has proven elusive, since no single approach appears to work for every patient and the condition’s prognosis is long-term and variable, with no known prevention strategy.
Researchers in this single group pilot trial recruited 22 women with Fibromyalgia for participation in a bi-weekly, 8-week yoga class (75 mins/class). The yoga classes were comprised of traditional, modified, and restorative yoga postures, breathing exercises, brief meditations, intention setting, mindfulness exercises, body scanning and visualization practices in shavasana, and an introduction to yoga philosophy (home practice was neither encouraged nor discouraged).
Data was collected pre, mid, and post-program to assess changes in pain, anxiety, depression, and mindfulness. Cortisol levels were assessed through salivary cortisol collected 3 times daily for 2 days, pre- and post-intervention.
Results indicated significant improvements (increases) in cortisol levels, as well as acceptance and mindfulness. Reductions in pain and catastrophizing were also observed. Authors Curtis, Osadchuk, and Katz (2011) theorize that “the changes in mindfulness and cortisol levels may provide preliminary evidence for mechanisms of a yoga program for women with Fibromyalgia,” noting that “future studies should use an RCT [randomized controlled trial] design with a larger sample size.”
Another recently-published study suggests additional benefits of yoga for Fibromyalgia patients. Carson et al’s (2010) RCT found an 8-week yoga program to be effective in improving pain, fatigue, mood, pain catastrophizing, acceptance, and other coping strategies.
Poses and sequences recommended for those managing Fibromyalgia symptoms must be accommodated to the individual, but most yoga is helpful if the practitioner is working with a qualified instructor familiar with the needs of Fibromyalgia patients, or is able to modify based on his or her needs.
Have you or anyone you know found yoga to be a useful practice to improve fibromyalgia symptoms?