Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition affecting 11-15 million persons in the U.S. Most fibromyalgia patients use health services extensively; this illness carries an annual direct cost for care of >$20 billion. FDA indicated drug therapies are generally only 30% effective in relieving symptoms and 20% effective in improving function. A mounting body of literature recommends that treatment for fibromyalgia encompass medications, exercise and improvement of coping skills. However, there is a significant gap in determining an effective counterpart to pharmacotherapy that incorporates both exercise and coping. The aim of this randomized controlled trial was to evaluate the effects of a comprehensive yoga intervention on fibromyalgia symptoms and coping. A sample of 53 female fibromyalgia patients were randomized to the 8-week Mindful Yoga program (gentle poses, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga-based coping instructions, group discussions) or to wait-listed standard care. Data were analyzed by intention to treat. At post-treatment, findings provided evidence, based on various types of measures (standardized questionnaires, physical tests, daily diaries) that the intervention was helpful for improving a wide range of fibromyalgia symptoms and functional deficits, including pain, fatigue, stiffness, poor sleep, depression, poor memory, anxiety, tenderness, poor balance, environment sensitivity, vigor, and limited strength. In addition, the results suggested the yoga intervention led to a beneficial shift in how patients cope with pain, including greater use of adaptive pain coping strategies (e.g. problem solving, positive reappraisal, use of religion, activity engagement despite pain, acceptance, relaxation) and less use of maladaptive strategies (e.g. catastrophizing, self-isolation, disengagement, confrontation). These changes may seem surprising, given that the coping strategies employed in the intervention were drawn from the yoga tradition and differed markedly from standard cognitive-behavioral coping skills. Moreover, attendance in the yoga sessions was good, and on average participants practiced yoga techniques at home for about 40 min per day. The results of this study provide promising support for the beneficial effects of yoga in patients with fibromyalgia.

This study was published in Pain, 2010.

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