Can Chronic Pain Be Alleviated Through Yoga and Meditation?

woman performing yoga

Introduction

Various mindfulness techniques have long been known to help people relax both body and mind. Over the years, such techniques have also been said to help relieve chronic pain. The results of a study recently published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association lends some scientific credence that idea.

The study specifically looked at mindfulness meditation and hatha yoga. Whether or not other forms of yoga could yield similar results is unknown. At least for now, it looks like hatha yoga and meditation could be beneficial to chronic pain sufferers.

What the Study Showed

Researchers at Oregon’s Western University of Health Sciences engaged 28 participants in a study designed to measure the results of mindfulness on pain perception. Each of the participants was enrolled in in a mindfulness-based stress reduction course consisting of weekly classes of 2.5 hours each. Participants were also asked to practice the same meditation and yoga techniques at home the rest of the week.

Each of the patients had already been suffering from chronic pain for at least a year at the start of the study. Their ages ranged from 34 to 77. At the end of the course, 89% reported that the exercises offered them better ways to cope with their pain. The remaining 11% reported that the course did not help them at all.

The study’s lead author, osteopathic physician Cynthia Marske, says that meditation and yoga help facilitate healing by improving body structure and function. Mindfulness techniques can also help patients live with a manageable level of pain. She says that mindfulness and yoga are one option for chronic pain sufferers who do not get the relief they expect from pain medication.

More About Chronic Pain

CDC estimates suggest that as many as 20% of U.S. adults suffer from some sort of chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as persistent pain that lasts for an extended amount of time. It can be caused by a whole host of things ranging from cancer to accidents to debilitating diseases, like diabetes.

At Texas-based Lone Star Pain Medicine, doctors treat pain of all sorts. They say that treating pain at its source is an important part of helping patients realize relief and subsequently lead fuller lives. They also say that ignoring chronic pain only tends to make matters worse.

Chronic pain has been associated with conditions like anxiety and depression over the years. Left unmanaged, pain can reduce a person’s quality of life dramatically. It can inhibit a person’s ability to work and function. And depending on the source of the pain, failing to get treatment can allow an underlying condition to progress substantially.

Knowing When Mindfulness Is Appropriate

With all the science we have on chronic pain, it would seem that knowing when mindfulness techniques are appropriate is a good thing. The fact is that mindfulness may be appropriate for one condition but not another. Likewise, pain medications are sometimes appropriate and other times inappropriate.

Taking it one step further, it also seems reasonable to avoid potentially addictive pain medications if at all possible. If we can do that for some patients by encouraging them to practice meditation and yoga instead, perhaps this is the way to go.

Conclusion

The Oregon study offers limited evidence that mindfulness and hatha yoga can help with chronic pain. But as a small-scale study, it cannot be considered conclusive. Perhaps comparing its data with other similar studies will tell a more complete story. Perhaps mindfulness meditation and yoga are an underutilized means of pain management that we need to take a closer look at.

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