A shocking 40% of Americans live with some form of chronic pain, which explains a larger part of the crushing opioid epidemic in this country. When traditional treatments don’t work, patients often turn to these powerful drugs to alleviate their pain, and end up with a substance-use problem in addition to their original condition.
But you can avoid that destructive path by working with Dr. Stanley Mathew at the American Rehabilitation Center in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, Iowa. He specializes in approaching chronic pain differently and more effectively. As a triple-board-certified physiatrist, he offers evidence-based alternative treatments with impressive results.
Of the many successful treatments he recommends, yoga often surprises our patients who primarily think of it as a trendy form of exercise. Here, Dr. Mathew explains five ways yoga can relieve chronic pain and deliver benefits you may never have imagined.
Chronic pain vs. acute pain
Acute pain — the kind you feel immediately after you injure yourself — is protective. Technically called nociceptive pain, the negative sensation you experience compels you to protect your injury, avoid further harm, and seek a way to stop the source of it.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, serves no purpose and is no longer considered a symptom. You may experience chronic pain for any of several reasons, including anatomical, physiological, chemical, or genetic problems.
Chronic pain is not only difficult to diagnose, it can also be very tricky to treat. Fortunately, Dr. Mathew is an expert at finding the right modalities for even the most stubborn and complex cases of chronic pain.
In addition to ultrasound therapy, cryotherapy, nerve blocks, epidural injections, and psychological counseling, to name just a few treatments, Dr. Mathew often recommends yoga for our patients suffering from intractable chronic pain. Here’s why.
How yoga alleviates chronic pain
Most people are familiar with the way yoga improves flexibility, balance, and strength, but you may be surprised to hear about its medical usefulness. Here are five pain-relieving benefits of yoga.
1. Yoga reduces physical pain
Whether your chronic pain is directly related to a musculoskeletal problem or not, all persistent pain leads to constant tension deep within your muscle fibers that hinders blood flow and affects your underlying tissues.
Yoga relaxes your muscles, re-establishes healthy circulation, and realigns your musculoskeletal system, helping to reduce your pain.
2. Yoga calms your stress/pain hormones
Yoga postures, called asanas, help regulate your autonomic nervous system by improving your blood flow, muscle contractions, and ability to relax. As a result, your stress hormones, called cortisol and cholinesterase, subside, and your pain follows suit.
3. Yoga dissipates emotional/psychological pain
Physical pain is often connected to depression — chronic pain can lead to depression, and depression can lead to physical pain, and the cycle continues to spiral until you do something to intervene. Enter yoga.
Yoga interrupts the constant state of hyperarousal of your nervous system, allowing you to resume normal sleep patterns and eating habits, which contributes to your ability to heal and decreases your risk for depression.
4. Yoga restores healthy relationships that are essential to healing
Chronic pain alone is almost unbearable to live with, but it often also robs you of the essential support system you need to seek professional help and adhere to your treatment plan. Unrelenting pain causes many people to avoid social relationships and even lash out at or isolate themselves from loved ones as the pain gets out of control. These negative feelings exacerbate the physical pain.
But yoga intervenes by introducing focused breathing techniques that lower your heart rate, reduce stress, and decrease both your psychological and physiological response to pain.
5. Yoga promotes mind over matter
Your brain wields a lot of power when it comes to pain, especially chronic pain — it can either exacerbate pain or help you cope with it. Yoga teaches you how to tap into that power through meditation. As you reach deeper levels of consciousness, your body’s systems normalize, including your circulatory, nervous, pulmonary, and metabolic systems, and your temperature and blood pressure drop to healthy levels.
These physiological changes are coupled with an increased awareness of your pain and its source, which in turn can decrease your fear of and negative response to your pain.
Yoga can alleviate pain related to many types of conditions
Dr. Mathew has found that yoga as part of a comprehensive pain management treatment plan can address a wide range of pain conditions, including:
If you’ve been living with chronic pain and haven’t yet found a successful treatment, talk to Dr. Mathew about incorporating yoga into your treatment plan. To set up a consultation, call either of our Iowa offices, or use our online booking tool to schedule your visit.