Findings from the study, “The Impact of a Daily Yoga Program for Women with Fibromyalgia,” were published in the International Journal of Yoga.
Treatment for fibromyalgia is challenging, and often consists of a combination of pharmacological therapies — antidepressants and anticonvulsants — and non-pharmacological approaches, such as physical exercise, cognitive‐behavioral therapy, and rehabilitation programs.
Yoga is a form of physical exercise that combines stretching, relaxation and breathing techniques that have been shown to ease muscle pain and fatigue, and to improve mood and sleep quality.
“Several elements of yoga may address chronic pain and stress among women with FM [fibromyalgia]. Focused breathing is associated with improved emotion regulation and meditation may improve symptoms in FM patients,” the investigators wrote.
In this study, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, set out to evaluate the clinical benefits of a daily individual yoga program in a group of women with fibromyalgia.
The qualitative study involved 15 women with fibromyalgia who completed a six-week home-based yoga program designed specifically to manage chronic pain. The program was supervised by a certified yoga teacher and a PhD-trained scientist.
After completing the program, study participants were interviewed over the phone as investigators documented their impressions and experiences about the yoga program. Phone interviews included a series of semi-structured questions to help researchers identify common themes regarding the potential benefits of the program. All interview responses were systematically coded.
After analyzing interview responses, investigators found the six-week yoga program had a significant impact in five domains: physical/body perceptual changes; practices affecting pain; emotional changes; practice motivators and barriers; and group effect.
“Participants mentioned that they noticed physical changes as a result of doing yoga, including differences in their pain, body awareness, energy levels/endurance, stiffness, and breathing,” researchers wrote.
However, the effects of the yoga program on pain intensity varied greatly among study participants, with some reporting a huge relief in their pain levels during or after performing the exercises, and others expressing only mild effects.
In addition to the physical benefits, the program also seemed to have a positive influence on patients’ emotional and mental well-being, by reducing their stress and negative emotions, and boosting their self-confidence, determination and mood.
“One of the most prominent themes that emerged was the unique connection with the instructor and the other participants, and feeling accountable to them as drivers of effort,” they said.
“As uptake of yoga in FM is unlikely to be universal, and the availability may be limited, future research should focus on determining and predicting which participants are more likely to benefit from complementary therapies such as yoga, by using careful patient psychosocial and demographic phenotyping [observable patient characteristics],” the investigators wrote.
“Future larger-scale studies with such robust phenotyping of patients will help determine the potential of yoga to be implemented in a more widespread fashion, which could also be personalized to meet patients’ individual needs, as a safe and cost-effective intervention for chronic pain,” they said.
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