Per the National Institutes of Health, as of 2016, an estimated 20 percent, or one in five, Americans live with chronic or invisible pain that restricts mobility and daily activities, often resulting in lost productivity, depressed mood and reduced quality of life. Approximately eight percent suffer from high-impact chronic pain described as daily pain lasting more than three months along with at least one associated disability. A higher prevalence of chronic pain is found among women, veterans and adults aged 65 and older. Commonly linked to chronic diseases, autoimmune disorders, nervous system dysfunction and musculoskeletal injury, persistent pain related to arthritic joint inflammation and lower back pain (LBP) are the most common causes of disability among American adults.
As chronic pain has emerged as its own health condition, those who wish to avoid prescription and OTC pain relief medications are looking to non-pharmacological and holistic interventions to address pain management. Multiple studies have demonstrated yoga’s effectiveness in reducing pain and disability, while improving mental and physical function. A yoga practice encompasses poses or asanas, deep breathing techniques and meditation. Poses can be modified to accommodate unique conditions and individual levels of functional ability. Increasingly, people are turning to yoga to support general wellness, improve quality of life, relieve stress, enhance sleep, elevate mood, relieve low back, joint and neck pain and help manage symptoms of chronic diseases.
- Scientific research has found that a regular yoga practice can significantly reduce joint pain and stiffness, as well as improve joint function, range of motion and flexibility in individuals with osteo and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Persistent low back pain is known to have a high rate of incomplete resolution, resulting in a high rate of recurrence. Practicing yoga for low back and neck pain has shown promising results for pain relief. So much so, that the American College of Physicians recommends yoga as a first-line treatment to ease chronic or recurring low back pain.
- Per the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, yoga appears to be a safe and effective intervention for reducing the functional disability of back pain among military veterans living with long-term trauma.
- In chronic pain states, breathing is generally shallow, strained and stressed. A controlled expansion of vital energy, deep diaphragmatic yogic breathing with prolonged exhalation allows skeletal muscles to relax and lessens activation of the stress and nervous system response.
- In addition to the positive impact of yoga on pain and disability, a regular yoga practice builds muscle strength and agility, improves balance and promotes relaxation, stress reduction, mental fitness and better quality sleep.
A regular yoga practice may help to reduce chronic pain by transforming the body’s reaction to pain and stress into healing responses. Relaxing poses may turn off the flight or fight stress response and activate the rest and digest response, thereby redirecting the body’s energy to immune, digestive and self-nurturing processes. The simple practice of restorative poses, breathing exercises and meditation soothes the body, eases the mind and strengthens the flow of energy, restoring a natural sense of wellbeing. In the long-term, freedom from pain resulting from the many beneficial health effects of a continuing yoga practice may be just as effective as pharmaceutical pain interventions without the highly addictive side effects.
Those looking for natural ways to relieve chronic pain, should consult a healthcare practitioner to rule out any medical issues before beginning any exercise program.
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Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults-United States, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6736a2.htm
Yoga is reasonable alternative to physical therapy for lower back pain, say researchers. https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2964/rr-0
The Rising Prevalence of Chronic Low Back Pain. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339077/
Yoga as a treatment for chronic low back pain: A systematic review of the literature. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4878447/
Yoga Benefits for Arthritis. https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/workouts/yoga/yoga-benefits.php