Woman doing yoga

Study: Can Yoga Help Breast Cancer Survivors Better Manage Pain?

Surviving breast cancer can sometimes come with an unwelcome side effect: lingering pain.

Nearly half of women who undergo surgery encounter pain for years afterward. Side effects of antiestrogen medications, such as Tamoxifen, can include bone pain and hot flashes or night sweats, which interfere with a good night’s sleep – an important factor in pain management. Aromatase inhibitors are a class of drugs used to treat postmenopausal women – these can increase the risk for arthritis and joint pain.

Dr. Judi Fouladbakhsh is an associate professor at Oakland University. Much of her life’s work has focused on complementary and alternative therapies in health care. She’s a yoga devotee and instructor and is embarking on research that would study the benefits of yoga and qigong for pain management in breast cancer patients and survivors. Fouladbakhsh recently received a $70,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, which will fund her research.

“This research study aims to examine the effects of two complementary therapies, including yoga therapy and qigong, for self-management of pain among women who have experienced breast cancer treatment and suffer from pain and related symptoms affecting the quality of life during the survivorship period,” Fouladbakhsh said. “We are eager to embark on this new clinical trial to improve outcomes for breast cancer survivors.”

Check presentationFouladbakhsh hopes to recruit about 40 participants for the study, which will take place in various southeast Michigan locations such as Ann Arbor and Royal Oak. Class sessions will be held once a week for 12 weeks, with in-home practice encouraged as well. Classes will be standardized to ensure everyone has the same experience.

Measurements will be taken before, during and after the 12-week sessions. Participants will self-report their pain levels and how they’re sleeping. Watches will also monitor participants’ sleep and rest periods and cortisol levels will also be assessed.

At the end of the study, Fouladbakhsh expects a dedicated yoga and qigong practice will improve perceptions of pain, improve sleep quality and reduce stress, anxiety and fear. As a chronic pain sufferer herself, Fouladbakhsh said yoga breathing has helped her manage pain levels when medication wasn’t working. Like yoga, qigong combines meditation, focused breathing and movement.

“We know movement’s a good thing,” Fouladbakhsh said.

If you’re interested in being part of this study, contact Fouladbakhsh at jmfoulad@oakland.edu or call/text her at (248) 760-1158. Classes will start early December.

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Photo credit: puckons

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