Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, depression, and hypocortisolism. To date, published studies have not investigated the effects of yoga on cortisol in FM. This pilot study used a time series design to evaluate pain, psychological variables, mindfulness, and cortisol in women with FM before and after a yoga intervention.
Participants (n = 22) were recruited from the community to participate in a 75 minute yoga class twice weekly for 8 weeks. Questionnaires concerning pain (intensity, unpleasantness, quality, sum of local areas of pain, catastrophizing, acceptance, disability), anxiety, depression, and mindfulness were administered pre-, mid- and post-intervention. Salivary cortisol samples were collected three times a day for each of two days, pre- and post-intervention.
Repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed that mean ± standard deviation (SD) scores improved significantly (p < 0.05) from pre- to post-intervention for continuous pain (pre: 5.18 ± 1.72; post: 4.44 ± 2.03), pain catastrophizing (pre: 25.33 ± 14.77; post: 20.40 ± 17.01), pain acceptance (pre: 60.47 ± 23.43; post: 65.50 ± 22.93), and mindfulness (pre: 120.21 ± 21.80; post: 130.63 ± 20.82). Intention-to-treat analysis showed that median AUC for post-intervention cortisol (263.69) was significantly higher (p < 0.05) than median AUC for pre-intervention levels (189.46). Mediation analysis revealed that mid-intervention mindfulness scores significantly (p < 0.05) mediated the relationship between pre- and post-intervention pain catastrophizing scores.
The results suggest that a yoga intervention may reduce pain and catastrophizing, increase acceptance and mindfulness, and alter total cortisol levels in women with FM. The changes in mindfulness and cortisol levels may provide preliminary evidence for mechanisms of a yoga program for women with FM. Future studies should use an RCT design with a larger sample size.