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What Are the Benefits of Yoga for Fibromyalgia?

The primary benefits of yoga for fibromyalgia are decreased stress, pain relief, and the reduction of symptoms like fatigue and stiffness. Although exercise can initially increase pain, gradual and consistent practice of low-impact yoga for fibromyalgia has been shown to incrementally decrease symptoms. Yoga for fibromyalgia can be even more effective when combined with a regimen that includes meditation, group therapy focusing on coping with pain, and breathing exercises. Fibromyalgia patients interested in incorporating yoga into their routines should limit their practice to low-impact or gentle poses under the guidance of an instructor familiar with pain patients.

One of the key components of fibromyalgia management is regular exercise. Over time, regular exercise usually decreases symptoms. Yet for many patients, most traditional forms of exercise may be too painful or it may be difficult to find a class tailored to meet their needs. When adapted for pain patients, yoga is a low-impact way for people to keep moving and is therefore less likely to trigger symptom flareups. It can also be practiced at home as well as in a group setting.

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Research suggests that yoga for fibromyalgia can be an effective treatment for the syndrome when combined with other types of medical intervention. Women that had suffered from fibromyalgia symptoms for at least a year added a weekly two-hour yoga class to their current treatment regimen. The class included 40 minutes of gentle poses as well as 80 minutes of breathing exercises, meditation and group therapy that dealt with coping skills.

Within two months of starting the yoga class, more than half the women reported that their symptoms like pain, stiffness, and fatigue had decreased by at least 30 percent. Additional studies have documented that tai chi decreased fibromyalgia symptoms by a similar margin. Women who had not participated in the yoga class reported no change in their symptoms.

It is not clear why yoga for fibromyalgia can be beneficial for patients. It is possible that symptom relief is due to the placebo effect. It is also possible that yoga helps manage stress and raises cortisol, thus relieving pain, fatigue, and poor sleep. The true benefit may lie in the other components of the two-hour class given during the study including meditation and therapy. Additionally, some researchers suggest that yoga itself likely changes how the central nervous system responds to pain signals.

What is understood is that fibromyalgia muscles are generally tight and at a greater risk for sprains and strains. Yoga can help relieve muscle tension and stiffness with gentle stretching. Yoga incorporates breathing techniques and gentle movements that help reduce stress and relax specific muscles. This in turn can lead to less pain, less stress, and better sleep for fibromyalgia sufferers.

Patients interested in trying yoga for fibromyalgia should seek out an instructional video or class that teaches low-impact or modified poses. The instructor should have experience working with pain patients so that the routines do not push people beyond appropriate limits. Patients must pace themselves and avoid the temptation to do too much on days they feel well so that such days are not followed by painful flareups.

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