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

Senior Investigator, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute


Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist and clinical trialist. Her research interests include:

  • reducing the impact of chronic pain, especially spine pain;
  • evaluating complementary and integrative health (CIH) therapies;
  • building the evidence base for contextual factors related to care;
  • understanding and taking advantage of the relationship of spirituality and health; and
  • improving geriatric care.

She has led or participated in groundbreaking studies of various non-pharmacological therapies for chronic low back pain, including acupuncture, massage, meditation, and yoga.

Dr. Sherman has collaborated with investigators at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) and elsewhere across a range of disciplines, including clinical trials of CIH therapies for cancer, mood disorders, and menopause. Her work on building the evidence base for contextual factors related to care tries to find 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, including older age. Her work is rigorous, designed to answer practical questions, and intended to have impacts on the whole person.

Dr. Sherman is a senior scientific investigator at KPWHRI and an affiliate professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington (UW) School of Public Health. Her doctorate is in behavioral biology from Cornell University, and her MPH is in epidemiology from the UW. She has served as a reviewer for dozens of medical journals and granting institutions, and has sat on editorial boards for numerous CIH journals.

Research interests and experience

  • Complementary & Integrative Health

    Utilization; role of complementary and alternative medicine in health care; acupuncture; massage; meditation; tai chi; yoga; fibromyalgia; menopause; back pain; neck pain; anxiety disorders

  • Chronic Illness Management

    Chronic back pain; diabetes care; self-management

  • Mental Health

    Alternative therapies for anxiety disorders

  • Women's Health

    Alternative therapies for menopause

  • Patient/Provider Interaction

    Communication; patient expectations; patient  education


Recent publications

Jones SMW, Sherman KJ, Bermet Z, Palazzo LG, Lewis CC. Theory of planned behavior and mindfulness intentions in chronic low back pain. Mindfulness (N Y). 2022 Nov 10:1-8. doi: 10.1007/s12671-022-02022-2. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Kiamanesh CS, Fuller MC, Lu M, Nordin EJ, Ma JX, Dugan SM, Cummings CE, Sherman K, Ebert TJ. New opioid persistence in Veterans following major and minor surgery. Mil Med. 2022 Nov 1:usac322. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usac322. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Matthews SW, Sherman KJ, Binick S, Chien AJ. Optimizing narrowband UVB phototherapy: Is it more challenging for your older patients? Cutis. 2022 Aug;110(2):E45-E52. doi: 10.12788/cutis.0617. PubMed

Jones SMW, Sherman KJ, Bermet Z, Palazzo LG, Lewis CC. An experimental study to inform adoption of mindfulness-based stress reduction in chronic low back pain. Implement Sci Commun. 2022;3(1):87. doi: 10.1186/s43058-022-00335-w. PubMed

Joyce C, Kelly KC, Gurnani S, Sherman KJ, Roseen EJ, Saper RB. "In class we were all one."A qualitative exploration of yoga and educational interventions for predominantly low-income and minority adults with chronic low back pain. J Integr Complement Med. 2022 Aug 1. doi: 10.1089/jicm.2022.0557. Online ahead of print. PubMed

Gold LS, Cody RF, Tan K, Marcum ZA, Meier EN, Sherman KJ, James KT, Griffith B, Avins AL, Kallmes DF, Suri P, Friedly JL, Heagerty PJ, Deyo RA, Luetmer PH, Rundell SD, Haynor DR, Jarvik JG. Osteoporosis identification among previously undiagnosed individuals with vertebral fractures. OOsteoporos Int. 2022 Sep;33(9):1925-1935. doi: 10.1007/s00198-022-06450-7. Epub 2022 Jun 3. PubMed

Joyce CT, Chernofsky A, Lodi S, Sherman KJ, Saper RB, Roseen EJ. Do physical therapy and yoga improve pain and disability through psychological mechanisms? A causal mediation analysis of adults with chronic low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2022 May 18:1-31. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2022.10813. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Selfe TK, Montgomery C, Klatt M, Wen S, Sherman KJ, Innes KE. An exploratory randomized controlled trial of a 12-week yoga versus educational film program for the management of restless legs syndrome: feasibility and acceptability. J Integr Complement Med. 2022;28(4):309-319. doi: 10.1089/jicm.2021.0182. Epub 2022 Jan 18. PubMed

Zhang YQ, Jiao RM, Witt CM, Lao L, Liu JP, Thabane L, Sherman KJ, Cummings M, Richards DP, Kim EA, Kim TH, Lee MS, Wechsler ME, Brinkhaus B, Mao JJ, Smith CA, Gang WJ, Liu BY, Liu ZS, Liu Y, Zheng H, Wu JN, Carrasco-Labra A, Bhandari M, Devereaux PJ, Jing XH, Guyatt G. How to design high quality acupuncture trials-a consensus informed by evidence. BMJ. 2022 Mar 30;376:e067476. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2021-067476. PubMed

Sherman KJ, Wellman RD, Jones SMW, Lewis CC. Interest in mindfulness training for chronic low-back pain: results from a vignette-driven, web-based survey of patients. J Integr Complement Med. 2022 Mar 23. doi: 10.1089/jicm.2021.0427. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed




HEAL responds to double crisis: Opioids and COVID-19

Health care is increasingly online—KPWHRI is studying telehealth options for opioid use disorder and chronic pain.



Stopping the opioid epidemic: A KPWHRI priority

The latest on our research on chronic pain and opioids—and how the results influence health policy and clinical practice.

news release


NIH awards over $15 million in HEAL grants to KPWHRI

Drs. DeBar, Bradley, and Sherman lead projects in initiative to tackle opioid crisis.



Patient-doctor trust withstands opioid risk reduction

Risk-reduction initiative for chronic opioid therapy sustains patient-doctor trust, Dr. Karen Sherman finds.