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Relieving the Pain of Fibromyalgia With Yoga

Posted Aug 29 2011 9:53am

The aches and deep stabbing pains of fibromyalgia are common, yet unfortunate pains that many women are forced to live with. With an unknown cause and no means of preventing this condition, researchers and fibromyalgia suffers are thinking outside the box to decrease pain and improve quality of life. One means of improving the health and well-being of fibromyalgia suffers is through the use of yoga. The same fitness trend used by millions of healthy individuals across the country, may also be a beneficial therapy for deep, muscle aches and pains.

yoga Relieving the Pain of Fibromyalgia With Yoga

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia — also referred to as fibromyositis or fibrositis — is a common syndrome in which a patient has long-term and wide-spread pain and tenderness of the muscles, joints, tendons and other soft tissues.

Fibromyalgia is also frequently associated with

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • headaches
  •  fatigue
  •  difficulties sleeping

While the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. Possible causes include emotional trauma, physical trauma, abnormal pain responses, viral infections and sleep disturbances. Fibromyalgia is a condition that is most common in women — especially between the ages of 20 and 50 — according to the National Institutes of Health.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia often mimic symptoms of other conditions. These conditions include

  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • chronic neck or back pain
  • depression
  • Lyme disease
  • hypothyroidism

Your doctor will conduct tests – such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans or blood work to help role out other potential conditions causing your pain.

Suffers of fibromyalgia are most likely to experience pain that ranges from mild to severe in intensity. Pain may be aching, shooting or burning. It can affect multiple joints of the body including:

  • chest
  •  neck
  • shoulders
  • shins
  •  elbows
  • knees
  • lower back
  • hips

Symptoms of fibromyalgia tend to be worse in the morning and improve throughout the day. Symptoms may become more noticeable at night. Physical activity, cold weather, wet weather, stress and anxiety are known to trigger fibromyalgia flare-ups. Irritable bowel syndrome, memory problems, neuropathy of the hands and feet, migraine headaches, heart palpitations and a lack of ability to participate in exercise have also been reported as symptoms.

To diagnose fibromyalgia, doctors may perform blood and urine tests. These tests often common back with negative results and are generally used to rule out other conditions that may mimic fibromyalgia. To be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you must experience wide spread pain throughout your body for a minimum of three months. Pain must be present in 11 of 18 areas of the body. Some of these areas include the

  • arms
  • chest
  • buttock
  • knees
  • neck
  • shoulders
  • lower back
  • rib cage
  • thighs

The goal of treatment for fibromyalgia is to control the symptoms and pain that are associated with this condition.  Your doctor may also recommend ways of helping you to cope with your condition. Physical therapy and fitness regimes are often used to help reduce the muscle, tendon and nerve pain associated with fibromyalgia. Stress relief methods may also be used for patients with fibromyalgia. If non-prescription treatments do not work, patients may be prescribed muscle relaxants and antidepressants — to improve pain and allow a patient to better sleep. Medication should be used in conjunction with exercise. Fibromyalgia is often a long-term condition that may require treatment for one’s entire lifespand.

How Does Yoga Help Fibromyalgia?

Research indicates that yoga can be effective for women suffering from fibromyalgia. Yoga is a mental, physical and spiritual discipline that focuses on a mind-body connection. Originating in ancient India, the goal of yoga is to reach a state of perfect tranquility. Yoga is also a strengthening exercise and has been used as a rehabilitation method for many different health ailments.  Yoga has been used for cancer patients to decrease depression, reduce pain, aid with sleep and helps to deduce stress and increase sleep. Yoga has also been used for those suffering with heart disease. The relaxing and deep breathing techniques of yoga may help reduce high blood pressure, enhance a cardiac rehabilitation program, improve symptoms of heart disease and lower risk factors for heart failure. Yoga has also been used in schizophrenia patients. It is believed that yoga can help to improve the cognitive function and reduce stress in patients, allowing patients to increase their quality of life — with better social and occupational functioning. Yoga practitioners also indicate that yoga can help improve conditions of the musculoskeletal system, therefore improving one’s mental state and quality of life.

With not much known about fibromyalgia, little research has been conducted on alternative treatment methods for this condition. In a study released in the 2011 “Journal of Pain,” researchers – Curtis, Osadchuk and Katz – studied the effects on female fibromyalgia patients. Curtis, Osadchuk and Katz looked into musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, depression and decreased levels of cortisol – also known as hypocortisolism.

Twenty-two participants were recruited for the study to participate in two 75 minute yoga classes weekly for eight weeks. Curtis, Osadchuk and Katz measured the cortisol levels of participants prior to beginning yoga. Study participants were also given a survey to complete prior to beginning yoga classes. The survey pertained to pain levels. Participants were asked to rate pain based on quality, intensity, areas of pain, acceptance, disability, unpleasantness and catastrophizing. This survey was also filled out at the middle of the study and at the conclusion of the eight week yoga program.

The type of yoga class completed during this study was known as Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga was introduced by Yogi Swatmarama – a Hindu sage in 15th century India, who also comprised the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The term hatha comes from the Sanskrit words “ha” and “tha.” “Ha” means sun and “tha” meaning moon. Hatha yoga units pairs of the opposite and refers to positives and negatives. Hatha yoga focuses on postures, energy control, purification, centers of energy, instinct, muscle force, channels, symbolism gestures, channels, sacred force and technique. Yoga practitioners often use Hatha yoga to cure and prevent minor issues of the musculoskeletal system. Hatha yoga can also help to reduce stress and other issues of the mind.

The results of this study were measured by statistical analysis. Repeated measures of analysis of variance – or an ANOVA test – indicated that the mean standard deviation – SD – scores improved significantly from the start of the eight week yoga program to the end of the yoga program. Participants saw a decrease in continuous pain, pain acceptance, catastrophizing and mindfulness. This study also yielded results on the levels of cortisol in participants. Cortisol levels where significantly higher at the end of the program than they were pre-intervention.

The results of this study are encouraging for females who suffer from fibromyalgia. The study suggests that participation in Hatha yoga can reduce pain and catastrophizing. Hatha yoga can also help to increase pain acceptance and mindfulness. Hypocortisolism was also able to be reduced.

As with any study, there are limitations. A lack of control group is one limitation to this study. Twenty-two participants in a study is also a relatively small sample size. The gender of study participants is also a limitation. While more women suffer from fibromyalgia than men, this study cannot generalize findings across the board.

Regardless of limitations, this study has positive outcomes that suggest the use of yoga can be beneficial in managing the psychological as well as the physical pain in women suffering from fibromyalgia.

If you are a female – or a male – suffering from fibromyalgia, talk to your doctor prior to beginning alternative treatment methods for fibromyalgia. Your doctor can determine if you are healthy enough to participate in yoga, suggest a type of yoga for you to participate in and determine how frequently you should participate in yoga. With little research conducted on the use of yoga for fibromyalgia patients, it is important to remember that results may vary. A treatment method that works for one individual may not be successful for another individual. While participating in yoga, never work through extreme pain. Should you experience extreme pain or discomfort during yoga, discontinue yoga and contact your health care provider.


Curtis, K., Osadchuk, & Katz, J. (2011). An eight-week yoga intervention is associated with improvements in pain, psychological functioning and mindfulness, and changes in cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia . Journal of Pain Research, 189. doi:10.2147/JPR.S22761

National Institutes of Health: Fibromyalgia


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