Treating Chronic Pain with Yoga by Jenny L. F. Andrus, MD

Orthopaedic & Spine Center
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Many Americans suffer from chronic pain that interferes with how well they sleep, their mood, and their overall satisfaction in life. Chronic pain is difficult to treat for many reasons. In some people, the pain generator is not identified. Chronic pain is thought to come from increased activity in the nervous system that makes it hypersensitive to pain. When this occurs, stimulation that shouldn’t be painful is perceived as pain. Psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety, can also affect how pain is perceived.

When trying to treat pain, both the body and mind must be considered. Yoga is an increasingly used tool for pain control. Yoga not only works on the body, but can influence a person emotionally as well. Yoga exercises focus on slow movements, breathing, and meditation to release muscle tension, reduce stress, and handle emotionally exacerbated pain.

Yoga For Relaxation

Relaxation strategies are often used in chronic pain management. The pattern of breathing used in yoga increases oxygen flow to the brain, which, coupled with correct posture and meditation, can help the body “let its guard down”. By consistently practicing this relaxed state, the mind and body will become more accustomed to feeling calm and more comfortable.

Many people don’t realize how stress can contribute to their physical pain. It triggers muscles to spasm and tighten up, and then can cause aches and pain throughout the body. Yoga is unique, because it helps both strength and flexibility in muscles. Reduction in muscle tension significantly reduces pain. One of the most common problems that patients have is back pain, which can result from poor alignment in the body. Yoga can engage back muscles that need to be strengthened while relaxing those muscles that are overly tight.

Often individuals may be contracting muscles unintentionally, which can cause many problems throughout the body. Yoga increases overall awareness of the body and focus on relaxing certain areas to achieve muscular release and balance. The day-to-day muscle tension and pain that can come from sitting with poor posture at a desk can also be relieved through some yoga exercises. Postural mechanics and spinal alignment are integral to pain control.

Here are a few tips when starting a yoga routine:

• Don’t push yourself too far. If a position or stretch is painful to do, modify it to fit your level of flexibility and abilities. If the body is being strained, the purpose of relaxation and meditation can be defeated.
• Keep a journal. Write down the poses that you enjoyed during class, or thoughts that came about while you were practicing.
• Focus on your own capabilities. Yoga doesn’t need to be a competition between you and others in the class. Work towards your own goals and improving every time you practice.
• Invest in a mat. After you have been to a few classes and decided that you want to continue with yoga, it is a good idea to have your own mat. The mat will help you maintain stability in poses and make yoga more comfortable.

Jenny L. F. Andrus, MD is a Fellowship-trained Interventional Pain Management Specialist who practices at Orthopaedic & Spine Center. Dr. Andrus was named a Hampton Roads “Top Doc” in 2014. For more information on Dr. Andrus and the conditions that she treats, go to www.osc-ortho.com or call 757-596-1900 for an appointment.