Using Yoga for Chronic Pain Relief

Yoga for Chronic Pain

The Best Yoga Practice, Postures and Perspective to Ease Your Pain

When you live with chronic pain, you begin to forget what your body felt like before. Your brain, muscles and joints have “learned” how to live with a constant pain response, and that’s difficult to interrupt. The challenge is to teach your body to release, repair and function without the constant stress chronic pain causes.

Conventional medicine can help with the painful sensation, but experts agree it’s worth looking into other ways to sever the loop of pain signals that leave you exhausted, immobile and depressed. In recent years, more attention has fallen on yoga, a practice that has proven enormously successful for pain relief.

While yoga for chronic pain relief isn’t necessarily an overnight cure, it is more powerful than it appears to be. Recent evidence suggests it may be one of the best ways to counteract the damage caused by chronic pain, and pave the way for a much healthier, more comfortable future.

The Research Behind Yoga for Chronic Pain Relief

A very recent study researched war veterans with chronic pain and yoga. The vets, most with chronic back pain, were asked to perform twice-weekly yoga sessions, for a six-month window. The results were astounding – in the vets who were participating, “the number of patients in the study on opiate-based pain pills dropped from 20 percent to 8 percent.”

Lead researcher Erik Groessl hopes that the findings of his study will allow vets to participate in yoga in conjunction with the VA.

In addition, yoga was researched as a therapy for low back pain compared to physical therapy. Physical therapy has long been the gold standard for low back pain treatment. I am not here to dissuade the fact that physical therapy is excellent – in fact, I have utilized physical therapy myself numerous times, with excellent results. However, for people who have the time or financial constraints, physical therapy is not always the answer.

Enter yoga.

Robert Saper, MD, MPH, of the Department of Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center, studied yoga as a treatment for low back pain in low-income, minority patients. Dr. Saper pointed out that low back pain affects a disproportionate amount of people who are economically disadvantaged, and he stated, “Therefore, we feel that it was important to test whether the yoga would be received well by an underserved population, as well as being effective.”

The study was published in June in Annals of Internal Medicine and studied 320 individuals who were of low-income status and racially diverse. Of the 320 individuals, they were divided into three groups – physical therapy, yoga, or educational handouts, in a 2:2:1 ratio.

The results were astounding – the physical therapy and yoga had a similar reduction in symptoms! Not only that, but after 40 weeks, more people were likely to adhere to a yoga program than a physical therapy program.

In just these two research studies, published this summer, yoga has proved beneficial for chronic pain reduction and as a chronic pain management tool.

How Yoga Helps Your Body

Before you launch into a devoted yoga practice, it helps to understand how the specific elements can work for you. Yoga postures or poses are known as asanas, and they are the basis of your routine.

There are hundreds of different postures; some will be good for your particular sort of pain, and some will be off-limits. However, a well-rounded selection of asanas can help in some concrete ways:

  • Muscle release. Many people can trace their pain to tight, aching muscles. Even minor injuries to ligaments and tendons can trigger muscles to seize up, and without a release, the pain can continue or grow. Yoga can teach you to release the clenched muscles by holding poses and breathing into them.
  • Proper alignment. For some, chronic pain stems from the long-term effects of poor posture: when you favor certain muscles and allow others to lag, you can wind up compressing tissues and joints. A yoga practice focuses on good form and close awareness, helping you to balance out your muscle groups and correct the alignment of your bones.
  • Better sleep. Poor sleep and chronic pain go hand in hand. It’s well-known that poor sleep can lower your tolerance to pain, and of course, pain can make it extremely difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Yoga can break that cycle by helping you match the gentle movements of the body to a calm and controlled mindset.

Breathing is also a big part of yoga, and an important pain-relieving technique. You’ll learn how to use your breath in different ways — to energize, relax, refresh, and open your muscles further. Since the speed and quality of your breath influences your thoughts and mood, soon you’ll develop a more profound connection between your mind and body. The result? Better control over your brain — including your pain perception and processing.

Next page: The different types of yoga available, yoga exercises for chronic pain relief, and additional tips.

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