An estimated 100 million people suffer from chronic pain in the United States. It is best described as ongoing pain that lasts weeks or years, and can be attributed to nerve damage or inflammation. Treatments for this medical condition include everything from electrical stimulation to surgery, and in the 90s, medications and opioids were largely prescribed to manage the symptoms, earning the medical industry approximately $635 billion a year. Today, researchers are turning to multidisciplinary therapies and approaches to manage chronic pain, yoga and meditation being among the most promising practices.
A new cutting-edge study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association finds that yoga can be used to heal the mind and body, to manage chronic pain and alleviate depression, two symptoms that often pair together.
The small-scale study conducted in 2020 in rural Oregon, had 28 participants, all ranging from 34 to 77 years old and reporting chronic pain for at least one year. The participants all took part in an eight week mindfulness-based stress reduction program, or MBSR. The program consisted of on 2.5-hour weekly session that taught awareness of the self in the present moment, without judgment. After the weekly session, participants were to implement the lessons in their daily life in personal practice. Their goal was to complete 30 minutes per day, six days a week. To measure the results, researchers collected data in pre- and post surveys that took into account pain and depression.
The study utilized meditation and Hatha yoga as a form of healing for patients, and when practiced daily, participants reported a 3.7-point drop in depression, rated on a 27-point scale - this type of change is similar to that experienced from antidepressants. Additionally, 89% of the participants reported the practice gave them better coping mechanisms to manage pain.
While chronic pain can never truly be healed, the study is proof that programs that support mindfulness-based stress reduction can, in fact, have the same effects as prescribed drugs. When we inherently utilize yoga and meditation on a regular basis, the structure and function of our bodies improves, which supports healing. Because chronic pain can never be cured, it is necessary for those with the condition to establish tools and practices to help them cope with a level of pain that is manageable.
As with all medical instruction, consult your physician before beginning a new workout or starting a new regime.