The use of yoga for chronic pain management and its effectiveness as an alternative to traditional treatments

Chronic pain can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life. It can affect almost all spheres of daily living be it work, relationships, leisure activities. Living with a persistent pain can suck the joy out of the life, stop one from experiencing the pleasure of present moment and appreciating those little moments that make life. Chronic pain is defined as the pain that lasts for three months or more. In some cases, pain comes and goes but is consistently there. A person suffering from chronic pain may not get good quality sleep which can further deteriorate pain and this becomes a vicious cycle. Imagine waking up every day with a pain that just won’t leave you. If not treated on time, this could also turn into depression and anxiety which could diminish one’s desire to live and enjoy good things in life.

Chronic pain can be due to a variety of reasons or a combination of causes. Getting an injury in any part of the body can raise your risk of chronic pain. Injuries or even illnesses can lead to certain changes in your body and even after one has healed, the pain can stay. One may feel chronic pain years after a broken bone for instance. Chronic pain can also be a symptom of diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, or cancer. Damage to nerves such as in cases of neuropathy or sciatica can also cause chronic pain. Inflammation in body parts due to certain health conditions is another reason of suffering from chronic pain. Also, certain genetic factors can predispose individuals to chronic pain. Older people are most at risk of chronic pain than younger ones. A study found that about 60% of people above 65 had chronic pain compared to 26% of those who are in the age group of 18 to 24.

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Chronic pain can also occur when you are stressed more than you can handle and your nervous system is in hyper arousal state. This affects your muscles, breathing patters, energy levels and also mindset all of which exacerbate the distress. Yoga not only helps relieve stress and symptoms of stress, it also influences all aspects of the person’s health from mental, emotional, intellectual to spiritual. Various asanas, meditation techniques, breathing practices can relax, energise, and strengthen body and psyche. The asanas and pranayama help initiate a ‘relaxation response’ in the neuro endocrinal system. This helps in slowing down breathing, stabilising blood pressure, reducing muscle tension, lowering heart rate and slowing brain wave pattern. This helps ease hyper arousal of the nervous system and promotes a sense of relaxation where sleep gets deeper and sustained and fatigue diminishes. All this improves symptoms of chronic pain.

Symptoms of Chronic pain

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The symptoms of chronic pain may vary depending on the underlying cause of the pain. However, some of the common symptoms of chronic pain include:
– Pain that persists or recurs for more than three months
– Aches, stiffness, or soreness in the affected area
– Intense or sharp pain that is localized or widespread
– Pain that may be described as burning, shooting, or stabbing
– Fatigue or exhaustion due to the persistent pain
– Mood changes such as anxiety, depression, or irritability
– Sleep disturbances or insomnia
– Reduced mobility or difficulty performing daily activities
– Changes in appetite or weight
– Impaired concentration or difficulty focusing on tasks

Chronic pain’s impact on mental health

Chronic pain can play havoc with one’s mental health. When one is in persistent pain over a period of time, it can cause anxiety and depression. According to National Library of Medicine, the physiology is in a state of persistent stress with the hypothalamic – pituitary- adrenal axis and the sympathetic system, in a state of hyper arousal. This can affect every aspect of our life from sleep, energy levels to appetite. Around 35% to 45% of people with chronic pain experience mental health disorders like depression. Research says mental health disorders and chronic pain are interconnected and it has been proven that depression can make a person more sensitive to pain. Also, people who are diagnosed with arthritis or chronic pain were more likely to have several mental health conditions from severe anxiety, severe depression, bipolar to PTSD.

Chronic pain’s impact on social interactions

Chronic pain can have a huge impact on one’s social interactions and relationships. It is bound to make one feel lonely and isolated considering the person may not be able to do things that they were comfortable doing earlier. The person who suffers chronic pain may lose self confidence and the fear of becoming dependent on others also plays havoc on their mind and some of them may become irritable, hostile, aggressive or depressed.

Yoga as an adjunct therapy in pain management

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In modern times, the ancient practice of Yoga is being used as an adjunct therapy for a number of conditions from arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine to lower back pain. Yoga can help raise the threshold of pain and helps one to deal with their pain better. Yoga improves flexibility and mobility of muscles and body which can help lessen pain. According to a study, doing yoga can improve daily function among people with fibromyalgia osteoporosis-related curvature of the spin. Poor posture is known to be one of the reasons people develop chronic pain in certain body parts such as shoulders, neck or back. Yoga can help improve posture and alignment, and thus reduce strain on muscles and joints. This can relieve pain. Yoga also helps in strengthening the muscles that can help support the joints and reduce the risk of injury or chronic pain. Besides, Yoga can also make one mindful and as people become more aware of their body and pain, they can manage them more effectively.