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Does yoga help fibromyalgia and back pain?

With over 10 million women affected with Fibromyalgia Syndrome in the prime of their lives, many suffer and struggle from FMS for years before being correctly diagnosed. This debilitating disease affects women and men in an approximate ratio of 20:1, as is common knowledge that most individuals who practice yoga in the USA are also women. Fibromyalgia often begins in women between the ages of 20 – 30 years and symptoms usually appear between 20 - 55 years of age. Because there are no laboratory or x-ray examinations to physically prove the presence of this disease many are convinced by their doctors that it is “all in their heads” making the symptoms of this condition even worse. However, today “FMS is now recognized as one of many 'central' pain syndromes that are common in the general population.” *1
*1 Therapy Insight: Fibromyalgia--Different Type of Pain Needing A Different Type of Treatment. Posted 07/12/2006. Daniel J. Clauw, Nature Clinical Practice Rheumatology.

1. Does Yoga Help Back Pain and Fibromyalgia?

Sufferers with the signs and symptoms of fms hurt all over with particular pain around the back at tender points, frequently feeling extremely fatigued. Those individuals with FMS symptoms feel as if their back muscles have been pulled or overworked. Sometimes the muscles twitch, and at other times they burn. Even after numerous tests, the physician is frequently unable to make a specific fibromyalgia diagnosis. When family or friends ask, “What are the symptoms of fms?”, have them think back to the last time they had a bad flu. Every muscle in the body screamed out in pain, the body felt depleted of energy, as though someone had unplugged the power supply. The severity of fibromyalgia signs-symptoms fluctuate from person to person, therefore the treatment protocol differs from person to person, but for most sufferers, fibromyalgia syndrome often resembles a post-viral state.

FMS parients who often suffer from back pain can be prescribed drugs and other forms of therapy which sometimes are not enough, therefore it is important for patients to take part in their own recovery and try alternative therapies, breathing exercises, meditation, and self care and exercise for fibromyalgia and back pain. A gentle and restorative yoga practice can help fms and back pain patients with mental, physical and spiritual balance; energizing the body and relaxing the mind. The key is to start very slowly practicing postures which help stabilize the symptoms, increasingly mobilizing the body.

2. Yoga practice for Fibromyalgia Sufferers

The benefits of yoga for fibromyalgia are first physical then psychological, and spiritual. “Over the last 10 years, a growing number of research studies have shown that the practice of Hatha Yoga can improve strength and flexibility, and may help control such physiological variables as blood pressure, respiration and heart rate, and metabolic rate to improve overall exercise capacity. This review presents a summary of medically substantiated information about the health benefits of yoga for healthy people and for people compromised by musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary disease.”*2
*2 James A. Raub, MS - The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Psychophysiologic Effects of Hatha Yoga on Musculoskeletal and Cardiopulmonary Function, Dec. 2002, Vol .8.

Gentle yoga restorative postures can be taught by a yoga or rehabilitation specialist. The beauty of this yoga exercise form is that it is not necessary to do a full routine of postures and they can be modified to the individuals needs. The fms sufferer can work within their own limitations, and tailor the practice to their specific needs to overcome their chronic pain syndrome. It is best for the sufferer to take private yoga or group classes. There are several books and videos on yoga, but sufferers should supplement their practice with what is learned in a class. Yoga classes can provide a better understanding of the practice, especially the use of particular yoga postures beneficial for their particular symptoms.

Gentle, mindful, and controlled movements can provide a non-impact or low-impact exercise for sufferers in almost any physical condition. Specific exercises, or yoga asanas, ease and stretch tense muscles; improve flexibility; and enhance strength, balance, and endurance.

Before the first group yoga class, the fibromyalgia patient may want to observe a yoga session. Does the teacher and the pace of the class feel right? There are many classes and teachers from which to choose, it is important to find a teacher that feels right for you. Make sure the instructor has had experience dealing with fms patients.

A very effective and safe yoga posture for Fibromyalgia is the COW-CAT Asana. The Cow-Cat can be practiced relatively safely by individuals suffering from Back Pain and  Fibromyalgia.

Dr. Freedom, Yoga Master and Chiropractor in Costa Rica is a contributing writer for Integrative Wellness Sound Body Yoga,  and The Fibromyalgia Treatment Center