Our upcoming CPD (continuing professional development) course Yoga Therapy & Mindfulness for Chronic Pain by Raquel Chincetru will offer innovative and time-tested techniques for helping others to more effectively manage their chronic pain. Furthemore, we have the Yoga in Healthcare Conference in February, and this post explores how yoga can help people experiencing chronic pain.

According to the British Pain Society, in 2016 more than two fifths of the UK population (which equates to 28 million adults) experienced pain which lasted 3 months or longer. A further review of 19 studies from the 1990s onwards found that 43% of people have been affected by chronic pain, with 14.3% either moderately or severely disabled by this discomfort. With back pain alone accounting for 40% of sickness absence in the NHS and an overall costs of £10 billion for the UK economy, the societal and personal ramifications are clear.

Pain is something that affects us both physically and mentally, and treatment isn’t always straightforward – pain management through opioids is limited due to risk of addiction (an issue that has caused untold difficulties in the USA), and often there isn’t a simple surgical solution. In some cases, it can even be challenging to identify any clear cause.

In the face of this pressing health concern, the use of yoga is showing promise in relieving chronic pain. Multiple studies suggest that yoga could be efficacious in helping people manage a variety of painful health conditions, and reinforce the case for bringing yoga into the NHS (which will be discussed in depth at February’s Yoga in Healthcare Conference).

What are the causes of chronic pain?

While no means an exhaustive list, some of the causes of chronic pain include:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Arthritis
  • Endometriosis
  • Nerve Damage
  • Migraines
  • Injury
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Musculoskeletal issues.
  • Obesity (for more information, see here)

The causes of chronic pain are complex and often linked to other health issues. While the cause of acute pain is often evident (like a broken arm, or pancreatitis) and disappears after a period of healing, chronic pain is either triggered by chronic health issues or persists for reasons that can be hard to define. For example, if a broken arm keeps hurting even if it has ostensibly healed. People with chronic pain are three times more likely to develop symptoms of depression or anxiety, and people with depression are three times as likely to develop chronic pain.

How yoga can help people experiencing chronic pain

Although there’s room for further rigorous studies, a significant volume of scientific literature pertains to the potential of yoga as a therapeutic intervention for people living with chronic pain. As a form of exercise which helps people to develop strength, flexibility and balance, yoga can be a gentle way to reintroduce physical activity into the lives of those who have experienced injury or illness. Additionally, the mindful and psychological aspect of yoga gives people extra tools in dealing with chronic pain and increasing resilience.

A pilot study (1) on low back pain, which took place in 2010, found that participants practicing yoga reported (using the Aberdeen back pain scale) significantly less pain in a four week follow-up than the control group. Another study published in Annals of Internal Medicine (2) found that among 313 people with chronic low back pain, a weekly yoga class increased mobility more than standard medical care for the condition.

A further meta-analysis of 17 studies (3) that included more than 1,600 participants concluded that yoga can improve daily function among people with fibromyalgia osteoporosis-related curvature of the spine, while also improving psychosocial well-being. Very recently, a study (4) reported that: “Yoga has been shown to decrease disability among people with pain… even the most basic yoga practices possess many of the components thought to be important in fostering resilience, yoga is a promising means of improving resilience and clinical outcomes for people with chronic pain.”

In the treatment of arthritis, a leading cause of chronic pain, the NHS states that: “Yoga is popular with people with arthritis for its gentle way of promoting flexibility and strength. Some research suggests yoga can reduce pain and mobility problems in people with knee osteoarthritis. However, some yoga moves are not suitable for people with the condition.”

The Arthritis Foundation (5) recommends yoga that has been tailored to the needs of sufferers as a way to reduce physical and psychological symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, stress and anxiety. Sharon Kolasinski MD, a professor of clinical medicine and a rheumatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that people who practiced modified Iyengar yoga classes once a week for eight weeks reported significant reductions in pain and improvements in physical function. Subhadra Evans, PhD, a researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center found similar results for a group of women with rheumatoid arthritis in a smaller study.

There is also some evidence that yoga can help people with fibromyalgia, migraine and other types of chronic pain conditions, and yoga can be tailored to a variety of ailments across a broad spectrum of health needs (people with multiple sclerosis, for instance, can do yoga on a chair rather than the floor). Asanas can also be modified to accommodate strength and experience, and yoga offers and mindful and physical exercise that anyone – no matter their age, health status, or fitness – can immediately take part in and benefit from.

The potential of yoga in relieving chronic pain could result in improved outcomes for those who, despite having current treatment options available to them, still report significant symptoms. It is also a means through which people can develop their resiliency and become more self-sufficient, with a tool they can use everyday to manage and ease their pain.

With chronic pain so rife in society, the personal and societal gain of including yoga as a treatment pathway in the NHS could be truly significant – and our Yoga Therapy & Mindfulness for Chronic Pain course can help yoga teachers impart this practice to offers in the safest and most effective way.

In order to book your place on the Yoga Therapy & Mindfulness for Chronic Pain, please see here.

Become part of the exciting conversation about bringing yoga into the NHS (with leaders in the fields of health, policy and yoga) at the Yoga in Healthcare Conference.

(1) Cox, H., Tilbrook, H., Aplin, J., Semlyen, A., Torgerson, D., Trewhela, A., & Watt, I. (2010). A randomised controlled trial of yoga for the treatment of chronic low back pain: results of a pilot study. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 16(4), 187-193.

(2) http://annals.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/article.aspx?articleid=1033130

(3) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/doi/10.1002/msc.1042/abstract

(4) Resilient to Pain: A Model of How Yoga May Decrease Interference Among People Experiencing Chronic Pain.

(5) https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/workouts/yoga/yoga-benefits.php

One thought on “Relieving Chronic Pain Through Yoga

  1. This is very informative and really helpful! I’ve been suffering from severe lower back pain for almost a year. I went to see an orthopedic and she advised me to undergo chiropractic treatment. But since I’m currently pregnant, I opt for acupuncture instead. It is really expensive and I can’t afford to do that every month, which is why I’m glad I’ve come upon this post! I would like to give yoga a try.

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