I have mixed feelings when I read research reports on the medical applications of things like walking, yoga, healthy eating, and even laughter. The tendency today is to categorize all healthy practices as medical “treatments” for specific diseases or conditions. Walking is a treatment for osteoporosis. Laughter is a remedy for high blood pressure. Raw foods cure cancer.
It’s one thing to tout the health benefits of a certain food, exercise program, or behavior. But to transform it into a “treatment” for a certain condition puts it into a medical category and that bothers me.
Still, I do find these research studies of interest, if for no other reason than to witness the focus shifting away from the use of drugs and surgery to non-invasive methods. That, at least, is a positive.
The latest example of what I’m talking about is a study conducted at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) demonstrating that yoga exercises may have the power to combat fibromyalgia — a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain. The research appeared online on Oct. 14 and is being published in the November 10 online edition of the journal Pain.
“Previous research suggests that the most successful treatment for fibromyalgia involves a combination of medications, physical exercise and development of coping skills,” said James Carson, PhD, a clinical health psychologist and an assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Here, we specifically focused on yoga to determine whether it should be considered as a prescribed treatment and the extent to which it can be successful.”
In this study, researchers enrolled 53 female study subjects previously diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The women were randomly assigned to two research groups. The first group participated in an eight-week yoga program, which included gentle poses, meditation, breathing exercises and group discussions. The second group of women — the control group — received standard medication treatments for fibromyalgia.
Following completion of the yoga program, researchers assessed each study subject using questionnaires and physical tests. The results were then compared with testing results obtained prior to the yoga classes. The members of the control group underwent the same evaluations. In addition, each participant in the yoga group was urged to keep a daily diary to personally assess their condition throughout the entire program.
Comparison of the data for the two groups revealed that yoga appears to assist in combating a number of serious fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain, fatigue, stiffness, poor sleep, depression, poor memory, anxiety, and poor balance.
All of these improvements were shown to be both statistically and clinically significant, meaning the changes were large enough to have a practical impact on daily functioning. For example, pain was reduced in the yoga group by an average of 24%, fatigue by 30% and depression by 42%.
“One likely reason for the apparent success of this study therapy was the strong commitment shown by the study subjects. Attendance at the classes was good as was most participants’ willingness to practice yoga while at home,” added Carson. “Based on the results of this research, we strongly believe that further study of this potential therapy is warranted.” Carson’s previous research showed yoga can be helpful with cancer-related pain.
While I’m a firm believer in the physical, mental and emotional benefits of yoga, I hate thinking of it as “therapy!” I’m sure the women in the study who discovered yoga thanks to this research didn’t care what it was called, as long as it worked for them. I suppose I’m a little paranoid after defending chiropractic from medical detractors for more than 30 years. Will I one day see my yoga teacher carted off to jail for practicing medicine without a license, just as our early chiropractic pioneers were? I’d better go and participate in some laugh therapy to manage my stress reactions over that scary thought.