For people with fibromyalgia, taking up yoga may help soothe symptoms and improve functioning. A disorder estimated to affect about 2% of the United States population, fibromyalgia is marked by a widespread muscle pain that typically intensifies when pressure is applied to certain "tender points" (such as muscles around the neck, hips and back).
Although few studies have explored yoga's potential role in fibromyalgia treatment, some research suggests that practicing yoga may help reduce pain, fight fatigue, and lift mood in people struggling with fibromyalgia.
How Might Yoga Help Treat Fibromyalgia?
Scientists have yet to determine how or why fibromyalgia might be beneficial for fibromyalgia patients. However, it's thought that yoga may help treat fibromyalgia by lessening muscle tension and taming stress (a possible trigger for fibromyalgia symptoms).
The Science Behind Yoga and Fibromyalgia
To date, there is little scientific support for yoga's effectiveness in treating fibromyalgia. Still, early research indicates that yoga may aid in fibromyalgia management.
In a 2010 pilot study of 53 female fibromyalgia patients, for instance, researchers found that those randomly assigned to an eight-week yoga-based program (including gentle yoga poses, meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga-related coping instructions) had significantly greater improvements in pain, fatigue, mood, and coping, compared to participants who were assigned to standard care.
In an earlier study (published in 2007), 40 women with fibromyalgia were assigned to one of two groups: The first group took part in weekly yoga sessions, while the second group combined their weekly yoga with tui na (a type of bodywork used in traditional Chinese medicine). Study results revealed that both groups had improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms and pain levels. While the group assigned to yoga plus tui na initially showed greater improvements, those who only practiced yoga ended up reporting less pain over time.
Should You Use Yoga to Treat Fibromyalgia?
It's too soon to recommend yoga for fibromyalgia treatment. In order to manage your fibromyalgia, it's important to follow the treatment program recommended by your doctor (which may include regular low-impact aerobic exercise, as well as lifestyle changes like improvements in sleep hygiene, stress management, and the avoidance of alcohol and caffeine). If you're interested in adding yoga to your self-care, talk to your doctor about how to safely incorporate yoga into your fibromyalgia treatment program.
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Fibromyalgia". February 2010.
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