Fibromyalgia is a common condition. Estimates are that it affects two to four percent of the population. The ratio of females to males affected is nine to one, those suffering usually diagnosed between the age of 20 and 50. For years people who suffer from fibromyalgia have visited multiple doctors and have had multiple tests in order to establish a diagnosis and control their symptoms. Treatment approaches have typically consisted of aerobic exercises, massage, acupuncture, amitriptyline, education, and more recently pharmacologic agents such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), and pregabalin (Lyrica). Management of the pain associated with fibromyalgia has been a multidisciplinary approach with the physical therapist guiding the patient through appropriate exercises, the effect of which facilitates time in deep sleep, and increases patient sense of well-being. Now, evidence shows that the team should also include a yoga instructor.
A study done at York University, published in the Journal of Pain Research suggests that an 8 week program of yoga can reduce pain, improve coping skills, and mindfulness.(1) 22 women with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia who hadn’t done yoga in the previous six months were recruited and enrolled in an eight week hatha yoga program that included two 75 minute sessions per week. Classes consisted of restorative, modified, and some traditional postures, meditation, and breathing exercises. Modifications in postures and sequencing accommodated the special needs of those suffering from fibromyalgia and low intensity postures and props were used to minimize musculoskeletal stresses. This study confirmed previous research showing that yoga reduced pain, fatigue, improved acceptance, coping, and mood. The mechanism of these changes found by this study are related to changes in cortisol levels and mindfulness.
The use of a hatha yoga program specifically designed to meet the needs of a fibromyalgia population can reduce pain, and the psychological effects of pain, as well as increase coping, mindfulness and acceptance. The physiological effects of yoga on the pain experience is mediated by a relaxation response that includes lowering of the heart rate, improved digestive function, increased breath volume, and reduction in stress. Now we know that yoga is also capable of normalizing cortisol levels. It is possible that these physiological changes are what contribute to the positive effects of a yoga program on fibromyalgia.
1. K.Curtis, A.Osadchuk, J.Katz. An eight-week yoga intervention is associated with improvements in pain, psychological functioning and mindfulness, and changes in cortisol levels in women with fibromyal.gia. Journal of Pain Research 2011:4 189-201.
Jacquie Durand’s personal journey with fibro