Yoga wellness tips yoga and meditation reduce chronic pain

New Study Shows that Yoga Stretches and Strengthening Exercises Can Reduce Chronic Pain

April 06, 2022

A new study lends further evidence to previous research showing that yoga and meditation can benefit patients with chronic pain. A program including yoga stretching and strengthening exercises significantly reduced chronic pain from lumbar herniated discs. This supports earlier findings that yoga and meditation lead to a significant improvement in pain, mood and functional capacity in people suffering from chronic pain.

One of the most common and debilitating issues linked to herniated discs is a chronic, radiating pain, typically down the legs. Also known as neuropathy, this type of pain typically results from compression or impingement on a nerve.

The pain often turns into a chronic condition, meaning it does not go away. Instead, the pain itself becomes the disease process. Neuropathic pain linked to low back issues is often linked to poorer treatment outcomes, as the pain tends to force patients to move less and less, further exacerbating the condition.

Can yoga stretching and strengthening exercises help? According to a study published in the journal Spine in early 2022, indeed a program of yoga poses focused on increasing mobilization, core muscle strength, and spinal and hamstring flexibility indeed shows promise as a treatment option for neuropathic pain from lumbar disc herniations.

This was a randomized, controlled study in which 48 people with neuropathic pain due to lumbar disc herniations were randomly assigned to a control group and a yoga group.

All participants took part in a patient education program. In addition, the yoga group practiced a series of selected yoga exercises for 1 hour twice a week for 12 weeks.

At the end of the 12 weeks, the yoga group showed a statistically significant reduction in neuropathic pain and low back pain, reduced disability, and overall improvements in general function. This difference persisted, although more moderate at the 6-months follow-up mark.

The study lends further evidence to the growing body of research pointing to yoga as an effective alternative modality for managing chronic pain issues.

The Challenges of Living with Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a common and serious medical condition affecting an estimated 100 million people in the United States, which correlates with annual costs of approximately $635 billion. 

"Many people have lost hope because, in most cases, chronic pain will never fully resolve," says Cynthia Marske, DO, an osteopathic physician and director of graduate medical education at the Community Health Clinics of Benton and Linn County. "However, mindful yoga and meditation can help improve the structure and function of the body, which supports the process of healing."

Healing and curing are inherently different, explains Dr. Marske.

"Curing means eliminating disease, while healing refers to becoming more whole," Dr. Marske says. "With chronic pain, healing involves learning to live with a level of pain this is manageable. For this, yoga and meditation can be very beneficial."

The Benefits of Yoga and Meditation for Improving the Symptoms of Chronic Pain

Studies suggest that chronic pain may be helped with yoga and meditation.

Another study found that mindful meditation and yoga led to significant improvements in patients' perceptions of pain, depression and disability. The small-scale study was conducted in a semi-rural population in Oregon where issues of affordability, addiction and access to care are common. Participants received intensive instruction in mindfulness meditation and mindful hatha yoga during an eight-week period.

Following the course, Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) scores, a standard measure of depression, dropped by 3.7 points on a 27-point scale. According to Dr. Marske, some patients experience a similar drop from the use of an antidepressant.

"Chronic pain often goes hand-in-hand with depression," says Dr. Marske. "Mindfulness-based meditation and yoga can help restore both a patient's mental and physical health and can be effective alone or in combination with other treatments such as therapy and medication."

Study participants received instruction in MBSR, a systematic educational program based on training people to have an awareness of the self in the present moment and a nonjudgmental manner. The findings bolster other evidence that MBSR can be a useful adjunctive treatment for chronic pain while improving perceived depression.

"The bottom line is that patients are seeking new ways to cope with chronic pain and effective non-pharmaceutical treatments are available," says Dr. Marske. "Our findings show meditation and yoga can be a viable option for people seeking relief from chronic pain."

Both studies echo previous findings on the benefits of yoga and meditation for chronic pain published in 2016 in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. 


Story Source: 

Pelin Yildirim 1, Alper Gultekin The Effect of a Stretch and Strength-Based Yoga Exercise Program on Patients with Neuropathic Pain due to Lumbar Disc Herniation Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2022 Jan 11. Online ahead of print.

Materials provided by American Osteopathic Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference: Cynthia Marske, Samantha Shah, Aaron Chavira, Caleb Hedberg, Raelin Fullmer, Christopher James Clark, Olivia Pipitone, Paulina Kaiser. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in the Management of Chronic Pain and Its Comorbid Depression. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2020; 120 (9): 575 DOI: 10.7556/jaoa.2020.096

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