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

Biography

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

Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Turner JA. Mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic low back pain-reply. JAMA. 2016 Aug 9;316(6):663-4. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.7951. No abstract available. PubMed

Turner JA, Anderson ML, Balderson BH, Cook AJ, Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronic low back pain: similar effects on mindfulness, catastrophizing, self-efficacy, and acceptance in a randomized controlled trial. Pain. 2016 May 31. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, Cook AJ, Anderson ML, Hawkes RJ, Hansen KE, Turner JA. Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2016 Mar 22-29;315(12):1240-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.2323. PubMed

Keosaian JE, Lemaster CM, Dresner D, Godersky ME, Paris R, Sherman KJ, Saper RB. "We're all in this together": A qualitative study of predominantly low income minority participants in a yoga trial for chronic low back pain. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Feb;24:34-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2015.11.007. Epub 2015 Dec 2. PubMed

 

News release

Mindfulness meditation eases chronic low back pain

 
March 22, 2016—JAMA publishes randomized controlled trial by Group Health researchers, comparing mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and usual care for back pain.
 
Read it in News and Events.

video

Cherkin-Newsrelease-Mindfulness_1col.jpg

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain

(JAMA Network, 2:26)

 

GHRI In the Media

Mindfulness meditation eases chronic low back pain

Mind-based therapies may ease lower back pain

New York Times, March 22, 2016

healthy findings blog

A ‘booster dose’ of more massage helps reduce neck pain

Group Health and University of Vermont researchers find a longer treatment period is better for reducing dysfunction.

Live Healthy

Yoga vs. stretching: Which is better for low back pain?

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