Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH

“My research looks for effective holistic therapies for back pain such as yoga and acupuncture. I want to help people with pain lead more active lives.”

Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH

Group Health Research Institute Senior Investigator


How can we harness the mind-body connection to enhance healing? An expert in complementary and alternative medicine, Karen Sherman investigates this question with a practical yet sophisticated approach—using rigorous epidemiological methods to test alternative therapies delivered in a manner consistent with real-world practice.

Much of Dr. Sherman's research focuses on evaluating complementary and alternative treatments for musculoskeletal conditions. In 2005, she published groundbreaking findings showing that yoga is effective treatment for chronic back pain. The largest study of yoga for back pain at that time, it was among the first hatha yoga trials published in a major medical journal and has now been replicated at Group Health and in the United Kingdom. Dr. Sherman partners with Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) investigator Dan Cherkin, PhD, on many of her studies, including a randomized trial of acupuncture for back pain that made news in 2009. Also the largest U.S. study of its kind, it was designed to test both practical and theoretical questions in the treatment’s efficacy. 

Dr. Sherman has collaborated with investigators at GHRI and elsewhere across a range of  disciplines, including studies of alternative therapies for cancer, mood disorders, and menopause. A special interest is researching the role of non-pharmacologic complementary and alternative medicine in the modern health care system and in finding ways to bring greater healing into the primary care encounter. Dr. Sherman hopes her work will encourage more focus on the intricate connections between mind and body—and on helping patients seize the power of this connection to pursue better health and healing at all phases of life.

Dr. Sherman is a member of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research and the Society for Acupuncture Research, having served on the latter's board of directors from 1998 to 2007. She serves as a reviewer for dozens of medical journals, is the section editor for clinical research at Biomed Central CAM, and sits on the editorial board for Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, International Journal of Yoga Therapy and Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies. Dr. Sherman is also an affiliate professor in epidemiology at the University of Washington's School of Public Health.

Research interests and experience

  • Patient/Provider Interaction

    Communication; patient expectations; patient  education


Recent publications

Cook AJ, Wellman RD, Cherkin DC, Kahn JR, Sherman KJ. Randomized clinical trial assessing if additional massage treatments for chronic neck pain improve 12 and 26 week outcomes. Spine J. 2015 Jun 18. pii: S1529-9430(15)00636-1. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.06.049. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Rundell SD, Sherman KJ, Heagerty PJ, Mock CN, Jarvik JG. The clinical course of pain and function in older adults with a new primary care visit for back pain. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015 Mar 6. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13241 [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Eaves ER, Sherman KJ, Ritenbaugh C, Hsu C, Nichter M, Turner JA, Cherkin DC. A qualitative study of changes in expectations over time among patients with chronic low back pain seeking four CAM therapies. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2015 Feb 5;15(1):12. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Tran HH, Weinberg J, Sherman KJ, Saper RB. Preference and expectation for treatment assignment in a randomized controlled trial of once- vs twice-weekly yoga for chronic low back pain. Glob Adv Health Med. 2015 Jan;4(1):34-9. doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2014.066.


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