Produce Lasting Improvement in Fibromyalgia with Yoga

Produce Lasting Improvement in Fibromyalgia with Yoga


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“For the nearly 10 million people who suffer from this condition, the thought of any movement can be overwhelming. What makes yoga perfect though is that it can be adapted for each person’s individual needs. Additionally, yoga’s ability to calm the mind and reduce stress may also serve to reduce the main trigger of fibromyalgia attacks, as well as slowly loosen cramped muscles.” – Liz Rosenblum


Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disorder whose causes are unknown. It is very common affecting over 5 million people in the U.S., about 2% of the population with about 7 times more women affected than men. It is characterized by widespread pain, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbance, and fatigue that lead to psychological distress. There are no completely effective treatments for fibromyalgia. Symptoms are generally treated with pain relievers, antidepressant drugs and exercise. But, these only reduce the severity of the symptoms and do not treat the disease directly. Mindfulness practices have also been shown to be effective in reducing pain from fibromyalgia.


Yoga is both an exercise and a mindfulness practice. So, it would make sense to investigate the effectiveness of yoga practice in treating fibromyalgia. Indeed, in a previous study, Carson and colleagues (Insert Link to Prior study) found that, yoga practice produced significant improvements in overall fibromyalgia symptoms. These findings need to be replicated and follow-up needs to be performed to establish the duration of the benefits. In today’s Research News article “Follow-up of Yoga of Awareness for Fibromyalgia: Results at 3 Months and Replication in the Wait-list Group.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Carson and colleagues follow up their previous study (Insert Link to Prior study) to replicate their findings and investigate whether the benefits last.


They recruited adult women who were diagnosed with fibromyalgia for at least a year. They were randomly assigned to receive either yoga practice or be on a wait-list control condition. The Yoga for Awareness training occurred in a group setting for 2 hours, once a week for 8 weeks. Participants were also encouraged to practice at home for 20-40 minutes, 5 to 7 days per week. Yoga for Awareness sessions consisted of yoga stretching poses, mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, presentations on the application of yogic principles to optimal coping, and group discussions. Participants were measured before and after training for fibromyalgia symptoms and disability, including myalgic tender points, strength deficits, and balance deficits, and pain coping including acceptance, catastrophizing, and adaptive and maladaptive strategies. In addition, daily diaries were maintained of “pain, fatigue, emotional distress, and vigor, along with success at coping via acceptance and relaxation strategies.” In this follow-up study, the wait-list control was provided the yoga training for 8 weeks and the previous yoga group was followed for durability of the symptom relief.


They found that after treating the previous control group, like with the previous study, there were significant improvements in overall fibromyalgia symptoms and its impact, including pain, fatigue, stiffness, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, memory problems, tenderness, balance, environmental sensitivity, and strength. There were even improvements in the strategies that the patients used to cope with the pain, including increased engagement with the pain, pain problem solving, reappraisal and decreased pain catastrophizing, self-isolation, and disengagement. The daily diaries also revealed significant improvements as a result of yoga practice including reduced pain, fatigue, emotional distress and increased vigor, relaxation, and success with acceptance. The improvements were significantly related to the amount of home practice with the greater the number of days per week that yoga was practiced at home the greater the improvements in overall fibromyalgia symptoms. They also found that the group treated in the previous study maintained their improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms, functional deficits, and coping abilities with no benefit showing a significantly lessened benefit.


Hence, they were able to replicate their prior findings, demonstrating that they were not a one-time event, and they were able to demonstrate that the benefits last at least for 3 months after the end of formal treatment. This is important as fibromyalgia lasts a lifetime. So, having lasting benefit is a prerequisite for a treatment. Yoga practice appears to fulfill these prerequisites and is a safe and effective treatment for fibromyalgia.


So, produce lasting improvement in fibromyalgia with yoga.


“Yoga’s ability to shift the nervous system out of the stress response and into the relaxation response is vital to people whose central nervous systems are sensitive and naturally hyped way up. It also acts directly on the very muscles where fibromyalgia pain occurs.” – Catherine Guthrie


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Jones, K. D., Mist, S. D., & Bennett, R. M. (2012). Follow-up of Yoga of Awareness for Fibromyalgia: Results at 3 Months and Replication in the Wait-list Group. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 28(9), 804–813.




Published preliminary findings from a randomized-controlled trial suggest that an 8-week Yoga of Awareness intervention may be effective for improving symptoms, functional deficits, and coping abilities in fibromyalgia. The primary aims of this study were to evaluate the same intervention’s posttreatment effects in a wait-list group and to test the intervention’s effects at 3-month follow-up in the immediate treatment group.


Unpaired t tests were used to compare data from a per protocol sample of 21 women in the immediate treatment group who had completed treatment and 18 women in the wait-list group who had completed treatment. Within-group paired t tests were performed to compare posttreatment data with 3-month follow-up data in the immediate treatment group. The primary outcome measure was the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire Revised (FIQR). Multilevel random-effects models were also used to examine associations between yoga practice rates and outcomes.


Posttreatment results in the wait-list group largely mirrored results seen at posttreatment in the immediate treatment group, with the FIQR Total Score improving by 31.9% across the 2 groups. Follow-up results showed that patients sustained most of their posttreatment gains, with the FIQR Total Score remaining 21.9% improved at 3 months. Yoga practice rates were good, and more practice was associated with more benefit for a variety of outcomes.


These findings indicate that the benefits of Yoga of Awareness in fibromyalgia are replicable and can be maintained.

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