Yoga for Chronic Pain and Fatigue

I have been dabbling with yoga for chronic pain and fatigue for more than 10 years. For the past five I have progressively become more enamoured with it.

In this post I will share some research, the benefits (in brief), the thing I love most about yoga, it’s multiple uses for chronic pain and fatigue, specific ways I use it, and how you can learn more about incorporating it into your well being journey.

Let’s be clear right out of the gate. Yoga is not a panacea. It is not a cure all. It is one useful tool that can be a part of a holistic plan for wellness.

Type “yoga for fibromyalgia” or “yoga for myofascial pain syndrome” or “yoga for pain” etc. And you will find a wealth of search options to delve into.

There is research specifically for using poses for myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia and more. Taking a more macroscopic view, mindfulness for chronic illness is just as much of a buzz topic at the moment.

Research around Yoga, Pain and Fatigue

Take this 2010 study that found, “pain was reduced in the yoga group by an average of 24 percent, fatigue by 30 percent and depression by 42 percent.” The yoga group participated in a holistic program for eight weeks – gentle yoga poses, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga-based coping instructions, group discussions and a daily diary assessing their progress. The control group received standard medication treatments.

This was followed up three months later: “Follow-up results showed that patients sustained most of their post treatment gains, with the FIQR (Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire Revised) Total Score remaining 21.9% improved at 3 months. Yoga practice rates were good, and more practice was associated with more benefit for a variety of outcomes.”

This study was small, just eight participants completed the study on the effect of yoga on myofascial pain syndrome in the neck. It comprised two weeks of breathing and relaxation practices and two weeks of asanas (poses), breathing and relaxation. The poses were Trikonasan (triangle pose), Tadasan (mountain pose), Vakrasan (twisted pose), Balasan (child’s pose) and Vajrasan (thunderbolt pose).

However, let’s not lose sight here – Vajrasan is a more advanced pose, the ability to do this pose indicates a pretty high level of physical ability to me.

The results were that this program “led to significant improvement in the quality of health, physical capacity (strength), cervical range of motion, and pressure threshold of the trigger points, and decreased the disability and pain.”

Perspectives on Yoga Inputs in the Management of Chronic Pain describes the benefits: “This consists of decreased metabolism,[24] decreased rate of breathing, decreased blood pressure, decreased muscle tension, decreased heart rate and increased slow brain [alpha] waves.[25] As the neural discharge pattern gets corrected, the habitual deep muscle hyper tonicity and thus the static load on postural muscle also slowly come down. The function of viscera improves with the sense of relaxation and sleep gets deeper and sustained. The fatigue level comes down.”

woman doing yoga

Benefits of yoga for chronic pain and fatigue (or anyone)


• calms the autonomic nervous system
• help with sleep
• reduced fatigue
• reduced pain
• increased physical capacity
• decreased myofascial pain
• less anxiety
• reduced depression
• relaxation
• mindfulness of movement
• awareness of proper alignment

What I love the most about yoga for managing chronic pain and fatigue:

Ease of adapting to my current abilities -Whatever my symptom level on any given day there is an option for me to practice yoga.

Let’s talk a couple of key things here:
Yoga is a tool, a multi use tool, but a tool nonetheless. I will use any tool at my disposal to help with the symptoms I live with. In much the same way I use low dose naltrexone- it was not designed for fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome but it helps anyway.

If some parts of the spectrum of yoga practices don’t resonate with you, ignore them. If you want to look at it as a purely physical practice, then do so.

In terms of the spiritual side, I shy away from much if it. My belief practice is Christianity and I have never felt a conflict. In fact, there is a great Christian yoga channel on YouTube.

Some of the options in yoga

Asanas (poses): one or two gentle poses (like child’s pose and forward bend), a flowing sequence of 5, 10, 20 or more minutes, chair yoga, bed yoga or restorative yoga.

Pranayama (breathing): breathing is always useful when you are managing a chronic illness. Simply focusing on your breath and helping your exhale to be slightly longer than your inhale will cause a relaxation effect. Breathing through pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety and overwhelm can help centre your thoughts on something else, release tension and help to ease the symptoms. Synchronising movements with the breath makes you more likely to be mindful of your movement and less likely to overdo it or injure yourself.

Meditation: I began using meditation specifically to achieve rest where sleep provided little. It was a means to an immediate end. After a few years I realised it was helping me much more profoundly in the form of turning down my central nervous system overdrive. There is nothing better than the comfort I feel after a 20 or 30 minute yoga nidra meditation. I cannot achieve it another way.

Day to day my practice changes but I usually practice in one way or another.

Meditation is my top tool for managing fatigue and pain. I very rarely miss my daily meditation.

I have never completed a 60 or 90 minute class or resembled a pretzel in any way. Because that is not the point.

Strengthening, calming, being mindful and moving is.

When my first son was young I had a yoga instructor come to my house for a private session to ensure my posture was correct and craft a sun salutation sequence suitable for my physical abilities at the time.

Sometimes I do the sequence with several breaths for each pose, one breath for each pose or a mix. If I feel a particular benefit from one of the poses I will engage in that one longer. Forward bend is a particularly good one for letting the neck gently stretch.

Cat and cow pose is a great tiny sequence for the pelvis and back. I did this multiple times a day during my pregnancies. I teach cat and cow pose in my free challenge, Five Minutes a Day for Five Days Challenge, sign up here.

When my pelvis was unstable due to pregnancy and I could hardly walk, I could still do half sun salutations (standing) or chair salutations.

The key is to be mindful of your body on any given day. Pay attention to what you need and can reasonably do.

Learn the many options- these tools have a place in our natural pain relief toolkit.

The complexity in yoga for chronic pain and fatigue

When we have extra challenges to think through, we need to be extra mindful. 

There is some complexity involved in practicing yoga when you have chronic issues. This is why it can be helpful to see a teacher privately – either for some initial guidance or ongoing personalised work. 

There are several types of yoga, many asana (poses) to choose from and we need to choose sequences that make sense for our current context. The other bonus is that you can create a homework plan so that you can continue your work between sessions, equipping you further.

As an example of the complexity – I have severe, recurring trigger points in my neck and shoulders. Holding poses that activate these muscles for up to five minutes (yin yoga) is not a good idea for me. I have a heat intolerance so hot yoga isn’t for me. The fibromyalgia and poor tense fascia responds well when given a chance to gently release.  So I gravitate toward slow flow and gentle yoga. 

I trained to be a yoga teacher because I got so frustrated with doing “beginner” classes that we out of my reach physically and for the time frame. I also wanted to share these tools to show you that “yoga” doesn’t mean 90 minute classes getting into very bendy positions. 

This is also why I created the below challenge!

Learn how we can use the tools of yoga in just five minutes a day?

Join us for the challenge!

yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge
Join us for the FREE five minutes a day for five days yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge

Join us for five minutes per day for five days and see how the tools of yoga might be of service to you.

If you would like some help learning the many ways you could incorporate it into your management plan for fibromyalgia/chronic pain/chronic fatigue or would like private yoga classes tailored to you from the comfort of your home (virtually) book your complimentary consultation here.

I’d love to hear from you – have you found benefit from any of the tools of yoga? 

9 Inexpensive Items I Use to Fight Fibromyalgia

I haven’t tried any very expensive items for managing pain. We just don’t have the budget with all of my other vital costs. These items are inexpensive (around $30 and under) and make a huge difference to my quality of life. A lot of them are things you can do yourself to manage pain, and I am a big fan of that.
Affiliate notice: Please note that some of my links are affiliate links and I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase using the link. Every little bit helps me to keep creating resources.
9 inexpensive items i use to fight fibromyalgia and move more freely

Trigger point cane massagertrigger point cane massager

This has been a great find for multiple reasons. The first of which is that my fingers can no longer massage my trigger point-laden neck. The second is that I can use it in any trigger point that I find. And the third is that I can more successfully treat trigger points at home. I still need to see the physiotherapist for intramuscular needles to release them, but this helps.

Yoga mat

More often than not, I don’t use it as I’m indulging where I am, as I am – say, next to the kids playing and I drop to forward bend for a nice back release. But when I go into my room, close the door and roll out my mat, it’s practice time! Yoga is one of my favourite ways to manage pain, fatigue and generally exercise.

Heat pack

I can’t live without this. When we went away to a house (once!) with no microwave, I tried so hard to use the oven with little luck. This is my favourite way to manage pain and my first line of defense, I haven’t had a day without using my heat pack in years.

Memory foam contoured pillow

When my neck is being more troublesome than usual, this is the only pillow I can use. I can’t really get a pillow shipped from the US so the link I provided is one that is very similar to the one I use, this also has a five year warranty (use that if needed!).

Travelling memory foam pillow

This is a life saver for the car or plane. I just don’t fit seats right, I’m quite short so I need a way to rest my neck or I get super sore super quick.

TENS machine

tens machineWhen I remember to get this out, I’m impressed. It helps release my back. However, I can’t tolerate it near my neck and that’s my usual issue. You attach small sticky dots to your muscles and choose a setting and level, then relax for the time you set it for. It’s like a really focused massage.

Swiss ballSwiss ball

When I am pregnant this was my best friend. I sit on it and do pelvic rocks or circles. Or I’d kneel on the floor and lean forward over it (letting my stomach chill at a slightly higher than table top position) – oh the relief. It’s also useful for exercise when you’re not pregnant, especially for core work. Remember to choose the right size for your height, being 5 foot 2 I use the 65cm, but most people will want to use the next size up. When using it for pregnancy you want to ensure that your hips are higher than your knees when sitting on it.

Foam roller

My foam roller is a very nice way to roll out tight, sore muscles in my upper thighs (on the floor on my side), lower back (standing against a wall) and upper back (standing against a wall). Do Google how to use one of these.

Deep Heat cream

Deep heat regular relief creamThis is one of my favourite creams for pain relief, aside from my essential oils, it is non-medicated and warming. Heat is my absolute favourite for treating pain. I go to bed with my heat pack and then apply Deep Heat when I wake around 3am to help release the muscles in my neck.
What items do you find useful for fighting Fibromyalgia?

For more information about fibromyalgia:

Kickstart Your Fight Against Fibromyalgia group programmes begin 1 May 2019

 

 

Yoga for Fibromyalgia with Handy Links

Given that I have a lot going on between two tiny children, a shift-working husband, starting part-time work again soon, living with a chronic illness and writing about said illness – I don’t have a lot of time. Long walks, one hour Pilates and yoga routines and gym sessions are well in my past, like the distant past. Prior to Noah I had worked up to 20 minutes of Pilates and 30 minutes of walking at a time. Prior to Wyatt I had worked up to 30 minutes of both at a time. Since Wyatt I have had little energy and even less time. But movement is so important that I must prioritise it if I hope to be well.
So I try to move every day.
I have written about the adaptability of yoga – and that I love that about it – I can use yoga whatever my physical state. Sometimes it’s one pose. Other times it’s a full sun salutation series. There’s also chair yoga, half sun salutations and far more than I’ve ever delved into.
As I go into this very busy 2018, I am making a commitment to myself to move every day.

Here’s an example of how I wove yoga into my day yesterday:

  • Half sun salutations before getting dressed
  • Forward bend while waiting for baby to drink his bottle before his nap
  • Yoga Nidra meditation while baby was napping
  • Knees into the chest pose just before bed to relieve my lower back
Yoga may not be your cup of tea, and that’s OK  I’d encourage you to set a goal of movement and stick to it. In order to do that you must like your chosen movement. There are a ton of them. Walking, tai chi, Pilates, swimming, aqua jogging, weight lifting…the list is long.
yoga for fibromyalgia

My free PDF report about Yoga for Fibromyalgia (benefits, research, how I use it plus more links) is available in my free resources page. Sign up here to access it.

I did some research into some good poses for neck and back release and strengthening because this is really an area of issue for me, here’s what I found:

10 Yoga Poses for Neck Pain and Spondylosis – That Changed my Life – the author includes sun saluations! And knee to chest post!

Here are some gentle yoga for fibromyalgia options:

10 Chair Yoga Poses for Home Practice – chair forward bend is delicious!

Bonus if you’re travelling soon!

How to do Yoga on a Plane -even just seated cat and cow pose will be nice!

Bonus if you want to build some strength while you’re at it:

 

I hope there are some things here to get you started. I’ll post updates on my Twitter @thefibromama of how my move every day challenge goes. Feel free to post yours! #moveeveryday

For more information:

Knee Flare Up – What I Did

The last few weeks have been difficult but illuminating.

I went to the pain clinic and did some physical testing that left me with a knee flare up.

I dealt with it fairly well, but it was hard. I couldn’t walk due to the severe pain. The not walking caused my back to flare up too. The extra pain caused extra fatigue.

But I did what I do best, I coped. On the first few days I rested and took medicine as the pain was rather severe. I used the space the pain relievers bought me to do my leg strengthening exercise (essentially leg lifts focusing on engagement in my thigh – my physio gave me this specifically for the knee pain). I also used an ice pack on it as I couldn’t bear the thought of heat on it.

After a few days I went to the pool. I walked across the pool in hip/chest height water holding my son (I had no childcare, plus he loves the water!). We managed 10 times across and then soaked in the family spa. It was bliss. We have done this three times in the past two weeks.

As my knees calmed down I slowly increased the amount of incidental walking I did during the day. When that brought less pain, I walked to the shops and back (20 minutes with a break in the middle).

Eventually that led to me resuming our usual 20-30 minute walks.

Now I am still sleeping with a pillow under my legs and stretching my legs like a maniac, but my knees are better and my back is under better control.

In a nut shell here’s how I dealt with the knee flare up:

  • Rest
  • Ice pack
  • Pain relief
  • Stretching and gentle strengthening
  • Walking in the pool (any exercise tolerable!)
  • Soak in the spa
  • Gently resuming old activity level as pain stabilised

Interestingly, my physio doesn’t think the knee pain is just Fibro. This means I need to get it checked out to ensure it’s not actually causing damage. Exercise will almost certainly keep it in check, but once it’s sore, if it is causing damage, I may need another plan to deal with it. I will keep you posted about that!

Food, Body Image and Fibromyalgia

There are some serious struggles involved with having a chronic illness, especially one that heavily impacts your energy levels.

I have struggled with body issues for forever (don’t most women?). Before I was struck by the chronic fatigue syndrome in in my last year of university, I exercised a lot. I walked everywhere and I went to the gym. Sometimes I walked to the gym (20 mins each way).

Before I left my full time job I was forcing myself to walk as much as possible and do one Pilates class each week. But my legs, glutes and lower back were ALWAYS tight and sore.

When I changed my lifestyle, I allowed myself to find the balance between enough exercise but not so much that it hurt. I walked 20-30 minutes each day and did a 20-30 minute Pilates or yoga routine three times a week. But I was less rigid on “bad” days.

Due to my body type and my previous levels of exercise I have very muscular legs. So when my pregnancy forced me to slow down (a very slow 20 minute walk by my last day) my legs became less defined.

As I progress further from pregnancy and my baby sleeps a bit better, I am able to pick it up a little. I have been able to do more walking and exploring which I love to do. I love finding a new walkway or beach and I love sharing this with my boy and husband. Numerous family adventures include walking in new places.

With the tremendously low levels of energy and high levels of pain that I have experienced since I had my boy, I have come to look at food more as fuel. I am more relaxed about it. My husband loves that I am not super finicky about food (as I’d have to be to maintain a tiny figure). Though, he does love the idea of my having a flat tummy!

I have a better understanding of food and exercise for fuel and survival, rather than aesthetic reasons. But I still struggle with my body image and that is a work in progress. I am learning to be thankful for what my body can do. That it carries me through each day, even if some of those days are slower than others and all of them are slower than most people’s. Having chronic pain means that I am more aware of my body and all of the work it does to keep me alive. And for this, I am thankful.

Beat Fatigue with Yoga: Book

In a crazy confluence of signs I keep coming across the idea to meditate. My new doctor Beat fatigue with yougasuggested it, it is in the research, it is recommended by a few new websites I have found and I have recently found Beat Fatigue with Yoga by Fiona Agombar.

This book begins by explaining what causes fatigue, goes into an introduction to yoga and the “eight limbs”, provides many yoga poses for practice and concludes with suggested routines according to the level of fatigue. Agombar’s own story is included at the end, she writes of her struggle with ME/CFS and how she used yoga to be well.

In seeing the recommendations for those with “moderate CFS” I have come to realise that I had been attempting too strenuous a yoga routine for my new state. I have had to admit that during pregnancy, and even now, I have to consider my CFS more moderate than mild. This irks me, but gives me a good place to build on for my yoga work.

I don’t buy into the spiritual aspect of yoga. But I do, wholeheartedly, get the idea of bodily balance, chemical upheaval and the natural rhythm of the body. Having an overactive nervous system, yoga calms me. My body tends to react positively to the physical poses and, pre pregnancy, I was pleased with how far I had advanced in my practice.

Because of this book, I decided that my second Tiny Mission (which I will write about as I see results) would be to do Total Relaxation Pose daily as a gateway to meditation. For about three days, I did this faithfully, on the fourth day I forgot and on the fifth I went a step further and did a guided relaxation for 15 minutes. It was bliss! I felt so nice afterwards! It is my hope that I shall build relaxation/meditation into my daily routine.

This book seems to be a great introduction to doing yoga for those with fatigue issues, I’d recommend it as a nice place to start because yoga can be adapted for most people, but it is great to be written by someone who understands CFS and post exertional malaise.