How yoga can be effective pain management

Chronic pain is a major, daily problem for millions of Americans. According to a 2012 analysis by the National Institutes of Health, 11.2 percent of surveyed Americans reported feeling minor to severe pain every day in the preceding three months. Increasingly, many people with chronic pain turn to opioids to manage their daily pain. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that around 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed every day. The rampant use of these powerful drugs has contributed to an epidemic resulting in around 78 opioid-related deaths each day.

Nurses can help their patients manage chronic pain by suggesting less drastic options, such as physical therapy, non-opioid medication, exercise and even yoga.

Pain relief and yoga
Yoga is an ancient tradition that helps people find balance in body and mind. According to Harvard Medical School, regular yoga practice has been shown to help people living with chronic back pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia, along with other chronic conditions. Yoga can also help people gain mobility and become more aware of their overall health.

The University of Maryland Medical Center noted that all types of yoga use three major techniques: postures, breathing and meditation. The postures help to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and mobility and improve balance. Mindful breathing optimizes the body’s use of oxygen and can also increase lung capacity. Finally, meditation can help reduce blood pressure, ease muscle tension and calm feelings of anxiety.

For yoga beginners, it's important to start simple.For yoga beginners, it’s important to start simple.

Yoga poses for pain management
One of the best parts of yoga, besides its lack of major side effects, is that it is very customizable. Beginners can start with easy poses and work their way up to more complicated postures. Likewise, patients with disabilities can perform modified versions of each pose from a seated position.

Here are a few notable yoga poses for chronic pain management:

  • Easy pose: Yoga Journal reported that this pose is a great starting point for people with low back pain. It only requires you to sit comfortably with your legs crossed, arms draped easily, and your back straight. For people with severe pain, even this pose may be difficult to hold for long. The pose should be relaxed when it becomes uncomfortable.
  • Seated twist: For this pose, you begin in the easy pose position. Then, with your left hand on your right knee, gently twist your back to the right and hold for a few seconds. Repeat on the other side.
  • Standing forward bend: As the name suggests, this pose begins by standing straight with your legs together and your arms at your sides. From there, you slowly bend forward while leaning back slightly, then continue to bend as far as you are comfortable.

Helping patients find low-risk ways to manage their pain is important. Nurses can suggest options such as yoga to help patients manage their chronic pain and lower their daily intake of pain medications.

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