Eight Week Yoga Class Improves Pain, Psychological Functioning and Cortisol Levels in Women with Fibromyalgia


Imaged Credit: http://www.lakeshoreyoga.com/

We know very little of Fibromyalgia (FM) which is depicted by musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, depression, and hypocortisolism  (decreased levels of cortisol). In this study Curtis, Osadchuk, & Katz (2011) recruited 22 participants to partake in a 75 minute yoga class (twice weekly, eight weeks).

Besides measuring cortisol levels, Curtis et. al (2011) handed out questionnaires pertaining to pain (intensity, unpleasantness, quality, sum of local areas of pain, catastrophizing, acceptance and disability), anxiety depression, and mindfulness. Participants were asked to fill out the questionnaire before, after 4 weeks and after the 8 week yoga class.

Hatha yoga is a 15th century Indian Mind-Body practice that consists of yoga postures in order to get the mind ready for meditation.

The cortisol (salivary) was collected 3x a day for each of 2 days, before and after the yoga class. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced and released in the adrenal gland and is integral in the function of the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. I wrote about the stress response some time ago in the “How the Mind and Body Communicate” series. More specifically parts three, four, six, seven, eight, and XXVII.

Here are the results. (I kept them reader friendly by omitting statistical data. Because this article is from an open source publication, I’ll link to the whole article at the bottom.)

Results: Repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed that mean standard deviation (SD) scores improved significantly from pre- to post-intervention for continuous pain, pain catastrophizing, pain acceptance, and mindfulness. Intention-to-treat analysis showed that median AUC (area under the curve) for post-intervention cortisol was significantly higher than median AUC for pre-intervention levels. Mediation analysis revealed that mid-intervention mindful- ness scores significantly mediated the relationship between pre- and post-intervention pain catastrophizing scores.

The results by Curtis et. al (2011) are encouraging as they suggest that participating in a Hatha yoga class can reduce reduce pain and catastrophizing, increase acceptance and mindfulness, and alter total cortisol levels in women with FM.

Because HPA axis imbalance (hypocortisolism) in FM is one of several diagnostic markers, increased cortisol output is a desirable outcome in FM patients.

As with all studies, there are certain limitations. Absence of a control group is one, small sample size is another one, and because all participants were women, the study’s findings can’t be generalized.

Nonetheless, this study suggests that an eihgt-week yoga program could help improve psychological and pain related variables in women with FM. Curtis et. al (2011) have shown that a randomized controlled trial with a larger number of participants in order to get a better picture of Hatha yoga as an intervention for FM.

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Reference: 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

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